Hysteria: smoke screens and censorship
As is to be expected, my twitter timeline and my blogroll are currently flooded with articles and debate on the new ISP filters (which claim to be an attempt to protect children from pornography and will be introduced in the UK at the end of next year). I am working on several projects in response to and prompted by this news, and I would encourage you all to take a look at the articles linked below as well as to do your own research and, if you’re in the UK, to write to your MP! However this is much bigger than filtered content and censorship, and for today I just want to tackle a very small corner of the issue.
On Wednesday last week I wrote an article about hysteria, how it is triggered, and the detrimental effect it has on victims, perpetrators and society in general. Evidently, I could not have picked a more poignant moment in which to write this article – especially as I have been mulling it over for a good six months. In the piece, I cited two situations (one very personal, and one from a family friend) wherein hysteria had a detrimental effect on the victims of abuse and harassment. And what David Cameron has effectively given me, is a third example; one with which not only my friends and family can sympathise, but an example that applies to the entire nation.
It is my belief that the fact these filters are being proposed now has an awful lot to do with the present (heightened!) hysteria in the UK surrounding paedophilia. In the wake of the Yewtree investigation, the idea of ‘protecting the children’ holds a lot of power and the Conservative party most likely considers this to be a moment of opportunity, in which they can gain votes in the next election. After all, if you are not particularly tech-minded, and you see this as an issue that still allows you the freedom to decide whether or not to opt out, why would you complain about a move that might keep minors away from that terribly violent, women-objectifying perverts’ pornography we’re always hearing about?
HOWEVER! this is all a smoke screen. Even if you are unaware of the ineffectiveness of said ISP filters, the pieces of this puzzle still do not add up. Take three (of the many many) issues at stake here:
1. Children viewing pornography
Obviously, all three of these issues are linked through the fact that they pertain to children and to sexuality in various ways, and it’s easy to see how “we need to protect the children!” is a tagline that covers all three, but in reality these are separate issues. I do recognise that there is a stronger link between child-pornography and paedophilia, but there is actually a distinction in that when we talk about child-pornography we are not just talking about the creation of it, but also its existence on the internet, and who possesses it, whilst paedophilia is more directly to do with the abuse of children.
The first issue, – children viewing pornography – however, has very little to do with child-pornography or paedophilia. Personally, I don’t think it’s children who view/create child-pornography or initiate their own abuse. Since this whole issue stems from hysteria surrounding paedophilia, doesn’t it strike you as a little bit odd that the response is not to crack-down on child-pornography or child abuse, but to keep (any and all!) pornography away from children? Stop me if I’m wrong about this, but I don’t think children stumbling across pornography on the internet is generally what results in paedophilia. Those are two completely different issues.
No only is the government proposing an utterly ineffective solution, but the problem they’re addressing has almost nothing to do with the reason people were upset in the first place! (Not to mention the fact that while all this was being announced, the nation was conveniently preoccupied by a certain birth; what does that tell you about distraction?)
But – and this is where my previous article is poignant – the use of words such as ‘paedophilia’, ‘child-pornography’, ‘harmful material’, ‘extreme pornography’, ‘child abuse’ etc., sparks the kind of hysteria parliament can use to obscure the true (and rather separate) issues being addressed. Children viewing pornography, and paedophilia are actually two very different things, but if the Conservative party flies the child protection banner, and keeps the nation hysterical (with any combination of the above terms), chances are the majority simply won’t take the time to unpack the freedoms and issues at stake.
What the government are doing is underhanded, ineffective, and immoral; however, I do think it is important that we – as a society – recognise the damage we do through buying into this panic. We have to take responsibility for our reactions. When we scream about one issue, we make way for another. When we lack the calm sense to initiate reasonable debate, we are unlikely to be met with reasonable responses. In the same way that yelling at your partner is usually met with drama, outrage at our government is being met with censorship.
And although I hate the end on an aside, I think it is also pertinent to mention that looking at my Twitter timeline, and the words of my fellow writers I am seeing a huge amount of sense and reason; but, I am also seeing hysteria and blind rage, and I can’t help but worry about where this extreme response may eventually lead. Whatever the issue, we need to take more care over our words and our reactions.
But! we also need to speak up.
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