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Tackling online safety once and for all

Some time ago – in March 2015, to be precise – we published a post on our blog about pornography

Young people and children were the focus, in particular the increasing numbers believed to be accessing explicit content online, and the damage being done as a direct consequence.

The world is a different place these days, of course, a global pandemic having left an indelible mark that few could have forecast in detail back then, almost seven years ago.

Much has changed during the intervening period, yet much remains the same: online porn is as pervasive as ever; it is still, in the main, accessible to all; it continues to put our children at risk; the damage that it does is still being done.

Back then, in March 2015, we shared research that had discovered one in five 12 to 13-year-olds surveyed had admitted having viewed pornographic images that had shocked or upset them.

To bring things up to date, an article that we read last week suggested 50% of 11 to 13-year-olds had, at some point, viewed explicit material.

It might be a matter for conjecture as to whether the situation has worsened since that first blog post, published back in 2015, and it could be argued that, with all our lives having become even more digital during these Covid times, porn has tightened its grip on those most susceptible.

No such debate is required, however, to recognise that explicit material can still be accessed online too easily, that such content is breeding attitudes about sex that cannot be considered anything other than unhealthy, and that those most vulnerable continue to be put at increased risk from predators and from those who might seek to exploit and inflict harm.

Back in 2015, we wrote about the one in five children who believed that watching online porn was ‘normal, a part of everyday life’, the one in ten 12 to 13-year-olds who considered themselves ‘addicted’ to online porn, and the 12% who admitted to having taken part in or made a sexually-explicit video. 

‘Think about computers, think about the internet,’ we wrote. ‘Think screens in bedrooms, think cameras on phones. Think online porn. Think Snapchat and all the other apps. Think social media. Think addiction. Think damage. Think solutions.’

One such solution – it appeared – was the proposed legal requirement for those publishing pornographic material to verify a user’s age before allowing access to their website, this quite a basic premise. 

That that proposal was dropped, pre-pandemic, in 2019, was a wasted opportunity to better safeguard our children. It must not – in our opinion, at least – be allowed to be wasted again.

This is a measure that, we are encouraged to report, is once again back on the table as part of the draft Online Safety Bill that is being considered in order to tighten the too-loose laws that govern online content and behaviour and, among other things, give our children better protection from explicit material and all that which poses the greatest danger and does the greatest damage.

Expected to be introduced to parliament over the coming months, the proposed measures will, the BBC report, ‘ensure users are 18 or over [and] could see people asked to prove they own a credit card or confirm their age via a third-party service.’

There’s still work to be done – some feel the proposals don’t go far enough, whilst others cite concerns about privacy, hacking and other such issues – and a successful resolution cannot, at this stage, be considered certain.

But at least the conversation has restarted; at least the issues have been underlined again; at least those responsible for posting such content are being challenged; at least, as parents and as adults, we’re being made aware…

That children remain at risk. That porn is as pervasive as ever. That the damage continues to be done.

The problem is still there, but it seems to us that the solution is right there at our fingertips.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take another seven years to tackle this once and for all.