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I am British, and like many I sometimes despair of my country and its government. Especially the narrow-minded prudish “what will we tell the children?!!” attitude towards porn or violence. This is despite the fact that children only have to open a glossy magazine or watch TV to see near-naked bodies and violent action scenes up close and personal. Besides, it’s a rite of passage to find adult magazines in the neighbor’s dustbin and sneak them off to school to show your mates.
But the government has decided it wants to nanny and censor the poor sensitive wilting souls of British youth, by installing filters at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level. His Holiness, Pope David Cameron I, is behind this wonderfully thought-out plan – which is actually turning into a huge blunder. British media reports that 19,000 of the top 100,000 most popular websites, as decided by Alexa, are being blocked by at least one British ISP. To get them unblocked, the owner of the site needs to contact their ISP and plead their case.
More on that later in the article.
The filters are switched on by default, and you have to call your ISP to opt out. According to Wikipedia, the list of banned topics include dating, drugs, alcohol and tobacco, file sharing, gambling, games, pornography, nudity, social networking, suicide and self-harm, weapons and violence, obscenity, criminal skills, hate, media streaming, gore (not the former US Vice-President), cyberbullying, hacking and web-blocking circumvention tools (after all that, what’s left to see online?!).
The European Parliament threw a spanner in the works by backing net neutrality and declaring the UK filters as illegal. But Pope David has decided to veto that ruling and press on ahead regardless.
A newspaper article from 2014 reported that only 13% of UK Internet users actually want the “porn filters” with the rest opting out. But you have to understand the whole filtering scheme in the first place (some people are totally clueless about computers – like my mother), and people also need to understand that they are entitled to opt out in the first place. They may think erroneously that they have no choice in the matter.
Don’t get me wrong, very young kids (under the age of 10 perhaps) shouldn’t see any of these restricted subjects. But as the child starts to become a teenager, it should be the responsibility of the parents to show these subjects in moderation and in proper context. The government shouldn’t take it upon themselves to decide for us what is taboo and what isn’t. They are not nannies, and they are not supposed to act like Big Brother.
If you are running a business website, and you rely on that site for your livelihood, then being unfairly blocked by ISP filters would be disastrous. Your potential customers will not find you, and you may not even be aware that the site is being blocked, until someone perhaps mentions it to you. Until then, how much money have you lost? How much time will you sit at the computer, wondering why there is no action at your e-commerce store?
Or consider the possible plight of charities, who heavily rely on their websites for their fundraising efforts. What if one of them was fundraising for breast cancer research? Will the word “breast” get the site onto a blacklist and have the site tagged as porn? Or depression charity websites talking about suicide? You see how flawed the system is already?
Imagine recipe websites telling you how to make Spotted Dick? Oh my.
One high-profile blog that was caught up in the Thought Police dragnet, is a UK political blog called Guido Fawkes. The blog was described in 2007 by a British newspaper as “one of Britain’s leading political blogsites”. The owner of the site, Paul Staines, was quoted as saying – and I love this –
“We would really appreciate it if TalkTalk would remove us from their block list. The only people who block us are them, and the Chinese government”.
Other victims include a watchmaker, a female and LGBT rights group, and even Jezebel, a Gawker Media site. The list just goes on and on. Obviously a lot of sites deserve to be on the blacklist – but many more don’t.
An organization called The Open Rights Group, have created two sites – one is a parody of a government department, showing how ridiculous the filtering system is. It’s called The Department of Dirty (if only there was such a department. I would pay anything for the news interviewer to say “and now we are going to talk to the Dirty Minister”).
The other site is a webtool called Blocked, and it is designed to tell you if a particular domain has been blocked. So if you are the owner of one or more domains, it pays to run them through Blocked to make sure that the domains are not blocked to your UK visitors – wherever in the world your website, blog, or online store is based.
. If they are, the Open Rights Group will tell you how to contact each UK Internet Service Provider to make your case for having your domain removed from the blacklist.
At the bottom of the screen, enter the domain you want checked. So I entered MakeUseOf’s. Let’s see what devious evil filth this site is spewing out.
Celebrate! MakeUseOf is officially clean of any evil stuff. We are FAMILY FRIENDLY!
But if there were any red flags, then the head honchos of MakeUseOf could go to this page, to get contact details for each of the ISP’s. Then it would just be a case of emailing the relevant companies, and asking for a reconsideration of the site. The page also gives contact details for the mobile phone companies as well, who may have you blocked on their network.
The Proverbial Slippery Slope
We Brits, naturally try to find the funny side in every situation and have a good chuckle about it. Hence the Department of Dirty. It’s almost as if laughing about something crappy suddenly makes it more palatable to live with. I call it the “Monty Python Syndrome”.
But even though the filter can be switched off at your request, many people probably don’t even realize that the filter is on in the first place. David Cameron claims that this will keep young vulnerable people safe from harmful influences online. But the government is now telling you what sites are good and which are bad. Isn’t that the job of the parents to decide that?
Tell us in the comments what you think about this issue. Plus check your domain on the site to see if it is blocked or not. If it was, did you manage to get it unblocked? Were you asked about your famous Spotted Dick?