Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Over-sensitive Censors


It's happened again.

Some woman has found her 14 year old son looking at porn on the internet. She's now trying to sue her Internet Service Provider for 'allowing this into her home'.

As usual, cue moral panic. Do-gooders coming on TV calling the internet evil, stories in newspapers saying how morality is going down the pan. Cue people spouting my favourite cliche:

"They should do something about this. They should see that the internet has some regulation. This never happened when I was a child"

Two things. It certainly did happen when you were a child...and who the hell are 'they'?

Isn't this a case of passing the buck? A case of, My child used my computer in my house to look at something I didn't want them to, and it's all your fault?

I'm going to say something now that may upset some people. The internet is not an entertainment device. It bears no resemblance to a TV station, with censors and a V-chip. The internet is simply a communications media. An easier way to share information.

An internet session is pretty much the same as a phonecall, except your computer is on the line rather than you. There is no-one 'in charge' who decides what goes on the internet, just lots of people like me and you. No one actually owns the internet, just like no one owns all the conversations going through the phonelines right now.

No-one has the right to censor the internet, in exactly the same way that no one has the right to listen in on your private telephone calls, and decide what you get to hear or say. If no one is allowed to control what you say to your friends over the phone, why should anyone have the right to decide what internet sites should be available? If your friend says something that offends you, you'd hang up. It's the same with the internet, if a particular site offends you, don't visit it! If you're against the internet in general, no one is forcing you to websurf.

If you don't like the internet, or something on TV, change the channel or turn it off! Don't try to make everyone else see things the same way you do.

Now please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying "Free porn! Waaahoooo!!" What I'm saying is: Parents, Take Responsibility! It is no-one elses fault if your child uses the internet to look at porn. The blame lies firmly at your door.

It doesn't matter what's available on the internet if you don't let your child look at it.

It's also wrong and illegal to let 10 year olds drink alcohol, that doesn't mean we make beer illegal, it means we don't let children into bars.

But of course, that isn't going to convince a lot of people. Why go to the trouble of actually parenting your child when you can just sit them down in front of the TV or computer, then blame everything they do on someone else?

If you put any adolescent alone in a room with a machine that can show them naked ladies, they will do it. (Right now lots of you are saying "Not my son!"...yes, your son!)

The trick is not to leave them alone in a room with a machine that can show them naked ladies. Keep tabs on them, learn a little about the internet...there's a little thing called the 'history' button that can show you everything you child has looked at.

To be completely honest, I'd be surprised if there's a single 14-15 year old male in the western world who hasn't at some point looked at pornography, be it over the internet or a sneaky glance at a magazine that a friend has 'borrowed' from an older brother. That, however, can't be helped without 24 hour surveillance on your child, but what they watch on TV or view on the internet certainly can be helped!

This is something that the news stories never mention. After all, it doesn't make much of a story, does it? What's likely to sell more papers? "Morals on the decline, children shooting up cops thanks to computer games" or 'Parents to blame! The Television is not a baby sitter!"

There are a few simple steps that any parents can take that will mean their children can't look at inappropriate material on the internet.

For example, supervise your child! Too many parents these days are using computers and television as baby sitters. Yes, there is a lot of stuff on the internet that is unsuitable for minors, but then again, there is a lot 'inappropriate material' in your local library. Mothers, if your child got into your collection of romance novels and came and asked you what 'heaving busoms' and 'steely manhood' were...who would you blame? The book publisher?

Truth #1: A child cannot view unsuitable material if you check on them regularly while they are surfing the net.

You can also download a program such as net-nanny or cyber sitter. These are very easy and simple to use programs that simply block unsuitable content from your computer. It works on the same principle as blocking out a channel on your tv. Yes, it involves a little bit of effort on your part...maybe even involving (shock horror!) reading an instruction manual and maybe an hour of your time...but what sounds like less trouble? Campaigning to have the internet censored, or simply censoring your own machine?

Last but not least, Stop blaming everyone else!

Censorship is something I've never understood. One person doesn't want to see something, so they try to fix it so no-one else can. Here's an idea, if a TV program or an internet site offends you, don't watch it! Turn the TV off, change the channel, or go back to, don't start a crusade to remove the actual show or site from existence.

This is the way I look at it. I'm a 24 year old adult. What gives anyone else the right to decide what I can and can't watch or read? Sure, what I'm looking at on the internet might not be appropriate for a 5 year old, but that isn't my problem. My rights should not be taken away because some parent can't be bothered to supervise their own children. The correct response to your child viewing things you don't want them to is not to remove that material from existence, but to simply stop your child viewing it!

"Ah!" The censors say. "But you need protecting from material that will corrupt or offend you."

My answer to this idea is, quite simply, go screw yourself.

I'm not a child, I don't need 'protecting' from anything on the internet. As for this material corrupting me, I'm offended and bloody furious at the idea that the censors view view the people in this country as so simple minded and weak that something as simple as watching a violent film would instantly turn them into a murderer or a rapist.

As an adult in a free country, shouldn't I be able to decide for myself what I find offensive, or what is good or bad for me?

The idea of protection is completely ridiculous anyway. Think of this, A film censor is someone whose full time job is to sit in a darkened room and watch uncut, uncensored films. They're the ones who get 'exposed' to the 'worst' films have to offer, before they decide what will corrupt or offend our poor, weak and vulnerable minds and cut it out.

But here's the rub. If the film censors spend a 40 hour week watching uncensored films...why aren't they effected? Why aren't all the film censors evil, murderous, rapist psychos? Are they special people or something?

I know, I know...we've all read the stories in the media. Psychopath watches movie, leaves house, kills someone in exactly the same way as they saw in the movie. So movie violence must cause violence...mustn't it?

Remember my post on fads and junk science?

Well these stories are junk science at it's finest. Let me state categorically that there is no causal relationship between movie violence and real violence. This is based on two facts:

1) Anyone who is unbalanced enough to go on a murder spree just because they saw a murder in a movie is going to kill anyway. If it takes just a simple movie to set them off, they could be set off by someone looking at them the wrong way. Also, if your child doesn't know that killing someone is wrong and has consequences, its not the movie's fault, it's the parent who somehow missed that they should have taught their child these things. If an adult doesn't know killing someone is wrong and has consequences, not watching a movie is not going to help them any.

2) Billions of people watch movies every single day. In the UK there have been roughly 2 'movie murders' in my life time. How many movies were watched in all that time?

Hundreds of thousands by millions of people.

Without getting too technical, the chances of a movie being the motivating factor in a murder are literally in the millionths of one percent. In real science, that is what's known as a negligable statistic, or in plain English, so small it can be ignored. Right now you have roughly the same chance of being hit by a meteorite as you have of a movie making you kill.

The above is also true of the internet. In fact, recent studies have shown that the internet, with its almost instant access to information, is actually making us smarter. In fact, the one thing parents seem to be obsessed with stopping their children from doing...that's right, computer games, have also shown to be making children smarter. Everything from hand-eye co-ordination to lateral thinking, prioritising of objectives...the list goes on.

I've also noticed that the connection between the media and crimes is only noticed by the newspapers when it involves 'youth media'. If someone shoots someone, and it later turned out that that person played violent video games...the connection will be drawn. In other non-youth media, that connection is never noticed.

For example, remember that episode of 'Coronation Street", the one where Gail Tilsley's mad boyfriend tied them all up, put them in the car and tried to drive it into the canal? Two days later, there was a story in the Daily Mirror about a guy who did exactly the same thing to his family. Unsurprisingly, the connection was never noticed, there was no moral panic, and certainly no one attempted to have Britain's favourite soap taken of the air.

Think about that for a minute. Soap operas have probably the highest rate of murders, infidelity and crimes on TV. Yet no one seems to want to ban them, do they? The parents talk over the fence about how computer games and 'that internet thing' are ruining their children and good old fashioned morality...then they go inside their house, fire up the TV and watch people cheating on their wives, plotting murders etc on their favourite soap. After all, it's only a soap opera, it's entertainment, no one is going to take it seriously, are they? It's just common sense.

It's amazing how that 'common sense' takes a nosedive when it involves kids.

It's just a simple case of 'mine isn't bad for me because I like it'. It's funny how the rules and theories are cast iron when it comes to the things the kids like, but go out the window when applied to anything else.

The absolute funniest thing with 'youth media' is that history continually repeats itself. Every generation thinks that what kids are doing today is bad for them and morally objectionable, while what they did as kids was good clean fun. Am I the only person who's noticed that?

Don't beleive me? Read the following:

In the 30's 'Pulp Comic Books', with their violent, hard boiled detective stories, were going to be the downfall of the younger generation.

In the 40's Jazz music was going to be the end of morals in modern society.

In the 50's and 60's Rock and roll music was blamed for turning adolescents into sex-crazed maniacs.

In the 70's and 80's 'Video Nasties' and 'Acid House' music was to blame.

In the 90's Rave music was destroying the worlds youth.

...and now in the 2000's Computer games, the internet and Hip-Hop music are to blame.

See what I mean? Every generation decides that what their youth are doing is bad for them, that it means pretty much the end of the world as we know it, and wouldn't it be much nicer if kids today where into what they were when they were young?

While this is happening, the previous generation is thinking exactly the same thing about the one in front of them.

In the 1940's the attitude towards Jazz music was pretty much the same attitude towards 'gangsta rap' and 'hip-hop' today. Parents in the '60's called The Beatles' music an 'electric noise' In the 2000's, if you're a fan of Jazz, people think you're an intellectual, and Beatles music is viewed as classic rock and roll.

In other words: "The controversial stuff we were doing was fine, we were just misunderstood by people who didn't 'get it', what you're doing, however, is the work of the devil."

In my opinion, the whole thing is just plain ridiculous. The common motivating factor in all of this is that people want someone or something to take the blame for something that they failed to do.

If parents of any generation catch their kids doing something they don't want them to, it's much less traumatic to blame TV, the internet or music than to blame yourself for not keeping a closer eye on them.

It's a biological fact that as a child is developing, they push to see what they can get away with. No one is born with the concept of right and wrong as right and wrong is an exclusively human concept and is the product of society, not genetics.

If your child is allowed to do whatever they want as they grow, and do whatever they want unsupervised, their moral compass will be badly miscalibrated.

A child who grows up and is watched and punished for doing wrong, chances are they'll grow with a much better sense of right and wrong, and are much less likely to do anything wrong.

In other words, don't blame the internet or the TV or what music your kids are listening to when they do wrong.

Look in the mirror and Take Responsibility!


Vada said...


Ouch to all those non-observant parents.

Great Blog today!

serendipity said...

I know what you mean, it really pi**es me off when people try and tell me what I should or shouldn't be looking at on the internet. I know there are some freaks out there and some perverts, but I don't consider porn to be perverse. Censorship isn't the answer, those things that can be found on the internet such as child pornography or beastiality should be banned and the people looking at them prosecuted. Normal pornography is just a healthy sexual outlet for men and women, and those who try to censor it are hypocrites since it is almost guaranteed that they have at some point has sex.
The 'internet police' should spend a whole lot more time worrying about the depraved paedophile sites and less time trying to censor porn - something that they probably spend their friday nights watching on the sofa with the missus!