It has been a very long time indeed since I sat and screamed at a newspaper article, but today was one of such occasion.
The article in question was, in fact, in every national newspaper in Britain, and was cheerleading for bringing in nationwide Internet censorship. The rationale behind this was twofold - the recent conviction of Mark Bridger for the murder of April Jones being one, and the murder of Lee Rigby, the British soldier, as another. In both cases, much mileage has been made in the popular press of how they looked at unpleasant stuff on the internets - in the case of Mark Bridger, he looked at Best Gore (a site which shows, well, gruesome photos and videos of dead bodies amongst other things), and in the case of Michael Adebowale, the machete-wielding hothead, it was Islamic Awakening which is the latest permutation of local rent-a-fundie Anjem Choudhury. Much ink is spilled about how if these websites were somehow banned, these tragedies would never have happened.
Most alarmingly of all, this disingenuous nonsense seems to be believed. More's the pity. Even that old fraud Liz Longhurst, whose daughter has provided justification for yet more thoughtcrime back in 2008, has been extracted from the stone she crawled back under after she basically lied and snivelled until New Labour (piss be upon them) had their way. For her latest trick, she has expressed admiration for the Great Firewall of China. The fact that had she actually been in China and tried to criticise government policy in this way would have probably got her identified as requiring re-education has completely passed her right by. But I digress. I myself have discovered the pointy end of this when someone I worked with expressed admiration for the Great Firewall of China as well. But not for political censorship, oh no, just for pr0n. And, of course, criticism of this obviously means you're probably a paedophile yourself. Of course.
And it gets worse - it is being listened to. Only the Liberal Democrats are opposing this. Both Labour and the Tories have stated that they want to resurrect the formerly dead Communications Data Bill which would allow unprecedented internet spying by the security services. There is also further impetus behind an "opt in" adult content block, whereby you would have to specifically volunteer if you wanted to be able to look at pr0n on the internets and tell your ISP as much, and no doubt registers of who has opted in would be available to security services and would probably carry some sort of a stigma as well. Any rational debate - even when the Guardian cited this study which clearly gives the lie to the idea that adult content turns people into rapists and murderers is shouted down by ratfucking and FUD. Think of the children! they cry. Or they just acknowledge its existence, and then carry on frothing.
In his 2004 novel State of Fear, Michael Crichton broached the concept of a PLM, or "politico-legal-media" complex. Granted, that novel caused much butthurt because it cast environmentalists as the bad guys, and it wasn't his best written number (that goes to Airframe) but about this, as a concept, he was absolutely right. The PLM works by fomenting, for want of a better term, witch hunts. Minor or small scale unpleasantnesses are exploited by the media to sell newspapers, politicians to be able to look tough on the big issue of the day, and ethically bankrupt lawyers (that is, the ones not working for my firm) to litigate and coin it in from damages and costs. Child abuse is a classic target of the PLM, because the idea that at any moment your, specific, children, could be carted off and raped to death sells newspapers and thus advertising space, the idea that something must be done about these people is a sure-fire vote winner for politicians and allows them to wave through unsavoury policies while hiding behind the children, and if you can at all plausibly claim that a 1970s TV presenter fiddled with you in an unsavoury manner, then well, get a lawyer, sign up a conditional fee agreement and see if you can blag a settlement from said presenter. It's also a suitably emotive issue that anyone who expresses any misgivings towards whether what is proposed is either I. effective, or II. a rational or proportionate response can be clearly discounted as a crank, someone who would allow Mark Bridger or other child-murderers to go and brutalise other children with impunity.
Unfortunately, it is precisely at these points that a cold-blooded consideration of what should be done, if indeed anything, is truly needed. Had same been carried out, people would realise that the idea that folks can be brainwashed by things they find on the internets into terrorism or paedophilia is, in fact, utterly false. As the study of Milton Diamond that I linked to above shows, there is, in fact, a strongly negative correlation between availability of adult content and incidences of rape and sexual assault, possibly due to the availability of one-handed browsing acting as a pressure release valve. This pressure-valve theory would dovetail with the preponderance of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, whose priests are sworn to celibacy and thus have no valid outlet for their pent-up tension, and with the alarmingly high rates of rape and sexual assault in the most conservative Islamic countries, where hardline clergymen undergo Herculean efforts to make a reality of The Handmaid's Tale in the name of protecting women's virtue, not realising that the Republic of Gilead in that novel had secret underground brothels staffed by enslaved "Jezebels" just to keep sex crimes vaguely under control.
I should also mention here that much stock has been made of the idea that by googling innocuous phrases one can be showered with explicit images. This is also false. Firstly, Google Safesearch exists for such a reason, and secondly, the internet is not a babysitter. Explicit material is only two clicks away if you know what to look for. Moreover, ISP-level blocking and even national-level internet blocking is hardly likely to be effective. When The Pirate Bay and kat.ph were blocked by Court order, I was able to circumvent this in seconds simply by using Google Translate. Even the Great Firewall of China can be got around using VPN tunnels, proxies and Tor.
I slightly followed the Mark Bridger trial. It was clear from the evidence that he would probably have murdered a child even if he hadn't had any access to the internet simply because he was a psychopath. So too were the Crossbow Cannibal, Ian Huntley, Fred West, Ian Brady & Myra Hindley, Peter Sutcliffe, John Christie, and others, and many of those didn't even have access to the internets because it wasn't about at that time. But the idea that ordinary people are capable of such evil acts is a difficult one for people to digest. After all, it could be you who ends up murdering or raping a child or whatever. It's far more comforting to think that something must have made them do it, or that they weren't human. In ages past, people were said that they did as much "not having the fear of God before their eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil." Nowadays, Lucifer has been thrown over in favour of other external influences. Fundamentalist Islam made them do it. Internet porn made them do it. Cults made them do it. Lady Chatterley's Lover made them do it. BDSM made them do it. When in reality, they did it because they, themselves, took the decision to do it, for whatever reason. People do not always act rationally and often are impulsive or have predispositions to certain acts. For instance, Graham Coutts, the murderer of Jane Longhurst, was on record as having had fantasies about strangling women ever since he was fifteen years old, so so-called "extreme pornography" could not have been responsible. But the idea that everyone, including you, are capable of evil is a difficult thing to digest.
However it is something that has to be come to terms with. One cannot simply bury one's head in the sand and assume that evil is something that is foisted upon people from within. One must instead confront one's desires to do evil acts and make a conscious decision not to.
Finally, at the risk of sounding like the very Daily Mail readers that I have hereabove derided, if we were to institute nationwide censorship of the internets, what message would this send to the wider world? It would legitimise all manner of censorship on any grounds, be they sex, race, "hate speech" or even political grounds. The rationale would be that if even a democratic régime such as Britain would censor the internets, then it must be okay for everyone else to. It is a slippery slope, and I pray all the gods that it is not one that is taken. Said prayer will probably go unanswered, though, because most people are willing to believe anything that anyone vaguely authoritative tells them without first engaging their brain, and easily won over by cheap emotional fascism. They still honestly believe that the Devil makes them do it.
Right, I'm going to finish here before I start wishing that the gods give unto Keith Vaz, Jim Gamble, Harriet Harrperson, and all those other pro-censorship pukes to search for their children with a Geiger counter.