Child Porn: How Daytime TV Gets It So Wrong!

Welcome Back!

Having been rather ill the past few days, I caught an episode of the British daytime TV panel-discussion show THE WRIGHT STUFF (see  here  for more info), on Channel 5 on Friday 31st May.

Their first discussion was based on that day’s Daily Mail front page in which the editor was outraged about why Google wasn’t blocking child porn. (This came about because a paedophile by the name of Mark Bridger, who murdered the five-year-old girl April Jones, was convicted of her murder earlier this week, and given a life sentence, with no chance of parole. See  here  for more details on the case.)

Unfortunately, I was really disappointed with what should have been a very serious discussion on the issues of child pornography, which turned-out to be a lot of misguided misinformation, and a complete lack of understanding about what search engines restricting child pornography actually entails. So I e-mailed THE WRIGHT STUFF and explained to them why their discussion was so completely and utterly wrong. Here’s what I wrote:

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Firstly, child pornography is not something you can just Google. That is to say, you can’t just type the words into any search engine such as Google, and get access to it. So, we need to first of all stop the complete misunderstanding that such material can be easily accessed by anyone, everyone.
It can’t.
The average computer user, will almost never be able to access any kind of child porn, no matter how hard they try looking for it. It simply is not that simple to gain access to it, to view it, or to download it. Even most well-trained, computer-literate professionals could not access such material if they tried, because it just isn’t available that easily, despite what papers like the Daily Mail would like to have everyone believe. Finding one indecent image may be possible, though it’ll take a long time to truly track such material down, should you be that way inclined. Finding an entire collection, however, is a whole different issue altogether!
Secondly, we need to stop confusing ordinary pornography with that of child pornography. Ordinary pornography is divided into two types: softcore and hardcore. Softcore material, can be anything from Page 3 (see  here  for information, if you don’t know what this refers too) through to magazines like Penthouse or Playboy, and can be easily accessed by anyone, but it is notillegal for adults to own such pornography, nor is it illegal to view it, in your own home – whether that be in the form of a DVD, a videotape, an online computer video clip, or in printed media such as books and magazines. A caller into your show, by the name of Andrew made the claim that it was illegal to own pornography in the UK. He was completely wrong!
It isn’t illegal. However, certain types of pornography, more commonly referred to as hardcore pornography, can be illegal to own or view, dependingon what is being depicted or shown. Material featuring animals and under-18’s being two prime examples of material that would likely be punishable by English Obscenity laws. But even taking that into account, some hardcore pornography is stilllegal to own.
Jeremy Edwards (British TV actor from shows like HOLBY CITY and HOLLYOAKS) asked why can’t these Search Engines just simply ban all such material? The simple answer is this: because most child porn is not accessed via websites that are categorised as “child porn websites”. The vast majority of child porn is disseminated via e-mail, via other child pornographers, and via other person-to-person contact, e.g. a friend of a friend of someone who has access to this kind of material in the first place. It’s a fallacy to think that child porn will simply be labelled as child porn or non-child porn. Computers aren’t that clever… yet!
Child-porn comes in many different forms, from written material (fictional stories on a website) to pictures, through to the most distasteful, such as actual video clips. Unfortunately, computers can’t yet distinguish the difference between offensive writing and non-offensive writing, and nor can they differentiate the difference between two similar images, in the way humans can.
So an innocuous photo of, say, children on holiday, who happen to be at the beach, and are thus in swimwear, cannot be differentiated from a photo featuring an abused child in their underwear. To a computer, both feature children, but it doesn’t have the knowledge to learn what counts as acceptable material and what counts as offensive material that needs to be removed and banned. Likewise, someone writing “I raped a child and enjoyed it” and “The Vikings raped and pillaged the land” both use one word, but in two completely different contexts – one potentially offensive, one entirely innocuous. So computer technicians can’t tell a computer to look for keywords or key phrases, because too often, the computer will remove material that is completely innocuous. (This has been trialled in the past, and it didn’t work, as it caused more problems, than it actually solved!) And child pornographers know not to label that material with such names anyway. It’s not like they’re going to have files called “Child Porn Pics: Volumes 1-4” available for download! Again, that just doesn’t happen, except in the blinkered minds of the Daily Mail!
Mr Edwards also said that they (the Search Engines) need to employ people to go through child porn and to remove it. What he fails to realise is that this takes vast amounts of time, and vast amounts of people to do this. If you had one million people, working 24/7, 365 days a year, from now until the end of time, working at full-speed and never making a single mistake, it would still not be possible to remove everything that was illegal, from the Internet. As soon as you remove one site, two or more others will spring-up in their place. You remove one indecent image, another hundred are uploaded and online seconds later. It simply isn’t humanly possible to get any amount of humans to go through everything offensive, and permanently remove it.
The other problem, is that such a task requires a judgement to be made. What may be seen as offensive or distasteful to one person, may not be to another. How many times have we seen people complain about an art exhibit or photo, and fifty percent of the people who saw the exhibit or photo want it banned, whilst the other fifty percent saw no problem with it? Does the image of the Venus De Milo count as pornography? Some will say yes, others will say no. A computer can’t judge taste or decency. It can’t factor into the equations issues like cultural sensitivity, context, or tone. It can’t compute subjectivity. A computer deals in yes and no, ones and noughts, on and off. Anything else, and it can’t do it! Computers, even in the 21stCentury, really aren’t that clever!
Kay Adams (Scottish TV presenter seen on daytime TV show LOOSE WOMEN!) quoted a figure of 26 million child pornography images currently being online. Now add on all the video clips that may exist, or pseudo-pictures that have been created, e.g. a drawing of a child being sexually abused, and the figure could easily double, triple or quadruple.
And that figure is only as good as right now; right this second.
In five minutes time, that figure may have increased by a further thousand. In an hour, another 10,000. In 24 hours, another million.
Humans and computers simply could not shift through that amount of data, and expunge it all. If we did, then by the time we’d finished the job, we’d be starting all over again, as another 26 million offensive pieces of material would be online, replacing the previous 26 million.
And don’t forget, the Internet grows every day.
It’s not like a building or a person, where it can only grow so much or expand so far. The Internet is not unlike the human brain. It’s theoretically possible to that the human brain could retain all the knowledge in the world, if it wanted too. The only limits would be the person learning all the knowledge, and time. It would take too long to learn that much data, let alone to be able to recall or use it in any kind of meaningful manner, so we humans learn what we need to do, and discard/fail to learn material that is irrelevant to us.

Likewise, the Internet keeps on growing, and it won’t ever stop. It can’t ever grow too big. It can’t cease expanding. It has limitless time and energy to effectively be as sophisticated and clever as we want it to be, and the horrible irony, is that there’s no off-switch. The human brain could learn everything, but eventually the human host would die. That doesn’t happen with the Internet. It can’t die. You can’t stop it, or pull the plug on it. It just keeps growing, and growing, and more and more data is passed around, every second of every minute of every hour, of every day from now until the end of eternity. The Internet will still be around, in one form or another, after we have all died.

Mr Edwards is wrong to argue that companies like Google aren’t “putting something back” and “aren’t trying”. They are. No sensible, decent computer company, or adult, wants the Internet to have child pornography on it. Or bomb-making sites, or hate-sites. We all want it to be eradicated, but it really isn’t as simple as just writing a computer programme to ferret out the offensive material, and leave the innocuous or legitimate material accessible. And as Kay Adams rightly pointed out, if you start removing it from one country, another country will allow it to be online on sites based in their country. Alas, in some countries, child porn isn’t seen in the same way the Western World sees it. I’m not going to name any specific countries, but I’m sure we’ve all seen documentaries where child sex exploitation gangs work, and where child sex is freely purchasable for the right amount of money.
He was also wrong about the “barriers” that are being put-up by child pornography sites. These so-called “barriers” aren’t being put online by Search Engines and Internet Providers, but by the sites themselves. They are probably nothing more than disclaimers, that probably say something along the lines of “This website is for adults only, and any material that features within it, may not be legal to view in all countries”. That’s not a barrier, and most websites that feature that kind of “barrier”, often just need you to tick a box, and voila, you gain access to the site! So, you can’t just “stop it” as he claims!
Natalie Cassidy (a British TV actress, famous for her role in the long-running soap/drama EASTENDERS) then talked about “these search engines must know what goes onto them”. Again, it’s not that simple.
A Search Engine is nothing more than an electronic catalogue or listings guide. It doesn’t differentiate between good, wholesome sites, fun sites, vaguely suspect sites, and illegal sites. It simply catalogues and lists everything – good, bad or otherwise. So, in answer to her concern, “no”, a Search Engine wouldn’t know what is being catalogued, and only if a human being sat through and checked every single entry on that catalogue, can you – again, as a human being would – sift through the listings, and be able to keep the good sites, and remove the bad ones. But we come back once more to human beings working to sift through a catalogue of material, that could be 100,000,000,000 sites in length, and another million are added every day. It woudn’t be possible to do this job, even if we wanted too.
Anyone who’s gone onto Google and looked for, let’s say, lists of estate agents, and Google comes back saying “I’ve found 13 million possible sites” will see what a Herculean task would await us! If we find 13 million sites on just the topic of estate agents, as soon as you start thinking of every other possible subject that can be searched for, then you realise just how impossible the task would be. Even if you could catalogue every single possible subject someone might search for, then you have to go through each of those subjects, and see if the search engine’s catalogue of sites are good or bad.
She also talked about “responsibility”, as in the Search Engines being liable for what they link too. Again, the Search Engines are merely gigantic, electronic catalogues. If anyone chooses to abuse that information, by using it to look for stuff that is not appropriate, or breaks the law, the Search Engine company cannot be liable, just as it would be wrong for a Library to be prosecuted for loaning books on medicines and science, but which someone uses the information in those books to build a bomb or to learn how to poison or kill someone! Would a garage be liable if you buy a car, and then chose to use that car to mow down and kill your next-door neighbour? No, of course, not. So nor can a Search Engine.
Paedophiles may be seemingly solitary people, but they will probably be part of a much wider network of people who peddle child pornography online. It is extremely unlikely, that any human being could just wake-up one day with a sexual interest in children, and then go online and find material that fulfils their need. Paedophiles are often victims of sexual abuse themselves. But even if they aren’t, in order to access child porn, they need to have contacts: people who know other people, who know other paedophiles or other adults with the same interest in children, who can give them access to the material they want. It’s very much a case of who you know, not what you know. As I said at the start, you can’t just dig-up child porn of any kind online, by typing words into a search engine!
Your second caller, Andrew, spoke a lot of mistruths and misguided information. His declaration that owning porn was illegal, and then citing the Obscene Publications Act as the reason, was completely and utterly wrong in every possible way! It is one hundred per cent NOT illegal for adults, to own softcore pornography, nor to view it, nor to make it. What is illegal, is to own, purchase or view certain types of hardcore pornography, though not all types. Considering Andrew said he owned some sex shops, he seems very misguided on the laws relating to the ownership of pornography, and the various recent changes in law on this subject.
He then went on to discuss how 12, 13, and 14 years old’s can access any kind of pornographic material they wish to see, online. Technically, that is true, but then my counter-argument would be “Where are the parents?” I find myself getting greatly annoyed that everything has to be banned or restricted, “because a child might access it”!
No!
A good parent would be doing everything in their power, to stop kids from accessing anything – drugs, pornography, whatever else – that wasn’t appropriate. Now, I appreciate that with all the good will in the world, no parent can stop their child from doing something naughty or illegal, if that child is determined enough. We’ve all done something wrong when we were young: snuck into an age-restricted film, seen a pornographic magazine, smoked, took drugs. Whatever it was, every child is going to be guided by their parents as well as their peers. Rather than constantly demonising pornography, let’s be more like Sweden. Let’s be open about what pornography is. Let’s stop being so prudish about nudity, about seeing each other’s naked body’s. Let’s teach our kids about pornography. Explain it to them, and stop frightening them that anything to do with sex is evil and wrong, and something they must neither talk about nor think of! Show them that not all porn is disgusting, violent and degrading filth – it isn’t. Let’s explain that pornography comes in many forms, from the very gentle to the very extreme. Let’s teach them that there’s a time and a place to view porn, and that what goes on in porn, is not necessarily a reflection of real-life. Let’s educate our kids, and teach them that the human body, and love, and sex are wonderful things, and not something that has to be hidden away!
Andrew’s other suggestion, that people should have to ask their Internet Providers for access to adult material, is not something I would have a problem with! I suspect a fair amount of adults would, but even if they didn’t, that is absolutely not going to change or stop child pornography from being accessible. Every single thing that gets banned, someone, somewhere finds a way to get hold of it, and supply it – be it medicines, drugs, pornography, alcohol, tobacco or any one of a hundred other “banned” items. So his idea simply wouldn’t make a real difference.
His statistic that 80-90% of all porn access, will magically disappear, is – to be frank – laughable! What will happen, is that porn will simply go underground once more, like in the 1960’s and 70’s, and it’ll be even more unregulated and even more secretive. That’s the very things you don’t want to happen to child porn. The more out in the open it is, the more the police, the CIA, the FBI, and Interpol have of finding it, stopping it, and prosecuting those who produce and peddle it! As I said earlier, child porn is not as easy to access as papers like the Daily Mail would like you to think it is! You’ve got more chance of getting hold of some of the most illicit drugs known to mankind, online, than you will have in finding a single piece of real or actual child pornography!
I detest any publication that frightens people about the Internet. Like everything else in life, the Internet is not something that you just shove into your kids lives. You have to guide them, and teach them. Explain to them, that they may find or see material that shocks or upsets them. If they do, then they need to be able to talk about it openly with their parents or teachers or another trusted adult, rather than telling them that they shouldn’t have been seeing that kind of thing, and chastising them for it. Sometimes pornographic material will spring-up onto your screen, without warning. Alas, that is a problem, but don’t vilify your child when it happens. Be calm, rational and reasonable. Not only will it make your child a better adult, it will make you a better parent/teacher, etc.
Ultimately, pornography exists, whether we like or agree with it, or not. Likewise, so does child pornography. Whilst we should do everything we can humanly do, to stop child pornography, and child sexual abuse, child trafficking, and all the other related ills, we also need to come to terms with pornography in general. We Brits have such an unhealthy relationship with it. Yet, almost every other European country, not only has a healthier response to pornography, but also to the way, sex and nudity are depicted in the media. It’s only us Brits that decry it as filth and sleaze, and a bit of nudge, nudge, wink, wink. What kind of values does that give to our children, when the merest hint of male or female nudity is to cry foul, and get angry at whatever medium the nude appendage has been depicted in?
Maybe the reason the worlds of pornography and child pornography, are so secretive, so buried, so dark and disturbing, is because we have made it that way? Maybe we need to take a good, long, hard look at who we are as a society, and ask ourselves a lot of tough questions, before we will ever find any answers!
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So, what do you folks think? Do you think that the Daily Mail has got it wrong (again)? Is child pornography something that search engines can easily ban? Or do we feel that we need another plan, another idea? Bearing in mind anything that you put online can never be erased, and will be there, somewhere on the Internet for anyone to access at any time in the future, do you think the Internet is policeable, for want of a better word? Does it need more censorship, more material being banned/censored?
Feel free to get in touch, and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading! See you again, soon!

ADDENDUM: Thanks to the MelonFarmers site for pointing me to  this  excellent article, in which statistics demonstrate how unlikely it will be that you will ever be able to find actual child porn on the Internet!

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Child Porn: How Daytime TV Gets It So Wrong!

2 thoughts on “Child Porn: How Daytime TV Gets It So Wrong!

  1. Great post. I wholeheartedly agree with the points you make. I admire you for sending such an articulate, well-argued email to the producers of The Wright Stuff. I also admire you for being able to sit through their ludicrous discussion in the first place! I was watching it myself but had to switch off after a few minutes as it was making me too angry! Likewise a Radio Five Live late-night phone-in last week, similarly castigating Google for 'not doing enough' to combat child porn. It's all too sadly predictable that in the aftermath of a horrific crime people's anger needs to be directed somewhere – and it's usually the wrong place. Following the terrible death of April Jones there are many serious issues that could be discussed, but getting angry at Google – who, as far as I'm aware, DO have a zero tolerance approach to any images of child abuse – is so stupid it beggars belief.

    I've just discovered your site today – loads of interesting, well-written articles, very much to my taste. I'll be checking in regularly from now on! Great work.

    Like

  2. Dear Mr Barb,

    Thank You very much for your kind words! THE WRIGHT STUFF is normally okay, and I have even taken part in a couple of discussions, but this particular discussion was not well-run. Maybe because Matthew Wright himself was absent, and Kay Adams was running it instead? Irrespective, banning child porn is not as easy as just getting Google (or any Internet Search Provider) to stop linking to the offensive content itself. Unfortunately, unless someone corrects these “facts”, then shows like THE WRIGHT STUFF and especially the DAILY MAIL will continue to peddle these facts as the truth, when they are anything but.

    Am pleased you enjoyed this article, and my blog as well. Thanks again for commenting!

    P.S. I like your blog photo (from Hal Hartley's SIMPLE MEN)! Nice choice, Sir!

    Like

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