It’s About Protecting Children: Defending the Government’s Porn Restrictions | Jake Scott

I’m not going to wax lyrical about the immoral practice of watching pornography, or the objectification involved in the persons who both watch and “perform” in it. That is a debate for moral and social philosophy. Instead, I want to present two simple facts as to why I support the government’s move to impose a blanket restriction on accessing pornography: one, the government is simply enforcing existing laws; two, it is a move to protect children.

If you walk into an off-licence shop, petrol station, or other similar properties, and look at a magazine rack, you might notice – after looking for a while – that on the top shelf, behind either a screen or black sheet, with perhaps just the name of the magazine visible, pornographic material.

The fact that you might see them, behind a screen, on the top shelf, obscured from view, should tell you all you need to know about who this material is hidden from: underage children. It is common sense that you can’t stop children from walking into these properties, but you can stop them from viewing things it is illegal for them to view.

In a similar vein, in the back streets of cities where you can find “adult shops” that sell both pornographic material, as well as sexual paraphernalia, children are barred from entering, because it has always been common sense that, regardless of whether adults want to engage in such behaviour, it is not for the minds of children.

Now, the internet is an entirely new beast. Most people reading this article are older than Google, and almost certainly older than Facebook, yet these websites have become so structural to the internet that one would be forgiven for thinking of them almost as infrastructural. Consequently, readers must remember that we do not yet fully understand the internet, and may never do so. This much is true of legislators; but if so much is true of them, what makes us so sure that children understand it any better?

Indeed, it has almost become assumed that children will be prey to the usual scams, such as microtransactions in online games and apps, and most recently “donations” made to online “personalities”, especially on the new social media site Tik Tok. So, when people argue that “children are smart” in their use of the internet, I’m afraid I have to disagree, because fundamentally children do not understand what they are looking at.

Children are the most vulnerable members of society – largely because they are not full members yet. They rely on us to guard them from the depravity of its darker recesses, and this necessarily includes pornography, largely because those websites that host it make it as easy to access hardcore pornography as much as “softcore”. The notional option of clicking a button that “confirms” you are above the legal age (usually defined by American standards – i.e. 18) makes it as easy to access the really awful material as much as the slightly less awful.

So, in this, I believe we have to remember two things: one, the existence of these pornography restrictions are not new, we are simply making an effort to update them to the technological era, especially now technology is so widely accessible. And two, children are thrown deep-end into the internet with almost no restrictions on what they can do.

The reasonable objection is often made by conservatives that yes, the prevention of children accessing pornography is a valiant cause, but that power should rest with the parents, not with the state. On principle, I agree; the true sovereign over a child is his parents, not his government, and as Ben Harris rightly argued in his article on this topic, it is a grandiose form of paternalism to allow the state such power. After all, it is the government deciding what is right or wrong for someone to do, not the individual doing it.

But it strikes me that the argument that it should be parents whom limit their child’s access to certain areas of the internet is simply a displacement of paternalism, not a denial of it, by shifting the emphasis on who can limit children from one authority to the other. Furthermore, as I have mentioned, the internet is an entirely new phenomenon, and parents do not fully understand it, nor do they know exactly how to limit their child’s access to it. So, given that we have a generation of parents dealing with something they don’t know, would it not be more common sensical to be more cautious with this phenomenon?

Finally, hysteria has been whipped up surrounding the issue that, to me, is not helping at all. We must remember this is not a “porn ban” – it is simply a request for proof of identity. People do not have some inalienable right to view material of any kind, never mind pornographic, and if all it takes to ensure the licence to view such material is the brief filling out of a form, then I have no sympathy for arguments resting on some abstract notion of freedom. Especially when acquiring such a licence is easier than any other licence in this country.

 

 

Briefly, I want to discuss the idea of shame. So many people who seem ready to object to the idea of a licence to access these sites ignore the simple reality (as I have mentioned) that all it will take to do so is filling out a form. To me, this is a practical objection, masquerading as a philosophical one: the concrete reality of going into a shop, requesting such a form, filling it out, and handing it back to someone, is one that is deeply embarrassing, because that person knows exactly what that form is for. And ultimately, if you feel shame at requesting access, then you know what you are viewing is wrong – so why would you not want children to be protected from it?

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