Tea and kittens deployed to defeat Daily Mail and Express

Browser add-on blocks “unpleasant” papers

A recent add-on for popular web browsers is claimed to help you avoid accidentally visiting the websites of the Daily Mail or Daily Express. With the new tool, if you click a link that would take you to one of those sites, you are instead redirected to a site featuring nothing but pictures of tea and kittens. Say hello to Kitten Block.

Browsing the internet can be a perilous activity at the best of times. Following hyperlinks - a vital ingredient in the success of the internet- used to be fairly straight-forward. Whether you saw a link to Argos or the BBC, you knew whither you were headed should you click that link.

But increasingly, particularly in the worlds of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, links are 'shortened'. A pointer is used to redirect you to the link in question, saving those all-important characters in an online world where brevity has become necessity rather than choice.

Twitter limits users to Tweets of no more than 140 characters, which helped to spawn a number of services that take the very long page addresses common on websites, and shortens them to something more manageable. Shortened, http://www.newstatesman.com/global-issues/2011/09/afghanistan-iraq-west-world becomes http://bit.ly/nwRw6l.

Both links take you to exactly the same page. That's great for brevity, but terrible for transparency. You no longer know, seeing only the Bit.ly link, where clicking it might take you.

Spammers, marketers and other ne'er-do-wells have exploited this 'trick', using the trust of the reader to get them to click a link in good faith, only to discover it takes them somewhere unexpected - the likely destinations being dodgy sites that are often pornographic or virus-ridden.

But a nifty add-on for Firefox, Chrome or Safari web browsers, called Kitten Block [https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/kitten-block/], promises to protect you from accidentally visiting at least two sites - The Daily Mail and The Daily Express. Instead, clicking on a link to one of those sites redirects you to www.teaandkittens.co.uk, a site built by technology journalist Tom Royal and featuring, you guessed it, tea and kittens.

Royal, who also built Kitten Block, explains:

"When using the internet in the UK it's almost impossible to avoid occasionally accessing the website of one or the other [Mail or Express], even if one finds their political and social outlook unpleasant or offensive. KittenBlock is designed to solve this problem. It performs one simple function: if the browser is directed to either website it will be redirected instead to a selection of photos from http://www.teaandkittens.co.uk."

In fact with web browsers such as Internet Explorer, it's possible to block sites [http://www.wikihow.com/Block-a-Website-in-Internet-Explorer-7] you would rather not visit using your browser's security settings. But while that will block those sites, it won't automatically give you tea and kittens instead.

So there you have it - the combined online might of Paul Dacre and Richard Desmond stopped in their tracks by tea and kittens.

Jason Stamper is technology correspondent of the New Statesman and editor of Computer Business Review.

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

A rape-able sex robot makes the world more dangerous for women, not less

Eroticising a lack of consent is no answer to male sexual violence. 

On Wednesday, the Independent reported a new setting had been added to the personality range of a sex robot made by the company True Companion. Called “Frigid Farrah”, the setting allows men who own the robot to simulate rape. If you touch it in a “private area” when it is in this mode, the website explains, it will “not be appreciative of your advance”.

True Companion says the robot is not programmed to participate in a rape scenario, and the idea is “pure conjecture”. Nevertheless, the news has reopened the debate about sex robots and their relationship to consent. What does a rape-able robot say about our attitudes to consent, sex, violence and humanism? Do sex robots like Frigid Farrah eroticise and normalise male sexual aggression? Or does allowing men to “act out” these “most private sexual dreams” on inanimate objects actually make real women safer?

The idea that allowing men to “rape” robots could reduce rates of sexual violence is fundamentally flawed. Sex robot settings that eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, coupled with male aggression, risk normalising rape. It sends a message to the user that it is sexually fulfilling to violate a woman’s “No”.

It’s important to remember that rape is not a product of sexual desire. Rape is about power and domination – about violating a woman’s body and her sense of self. Raping a robot is of course preferable to raping a woman, but the fact is we need to challenge the attitudes and sense of entitlement that cause violent men to rape in the first place.

There is little evidence to back the claim that giving men sexual “outlets” reduces violence. The research that exists is focused on whether a legalised sex industry can reduce sexual assault.

Studies on Dutch “tippelzones” – spaces where soliciting is legal between certain hours – claimed the areas led to a reduction in sexual violence. However, the research lacked precise data on incidents of sexual violence and abuse, and the fact that sex workers themselves can be victims. As a result, it wasn’t possible to determine exactly how the number of rapes and assaults fell in the population at large.

Similar claims made by social scientist Catherine Hakim also failed to prove a causal link between legalised prostitution and reduced levels of sexual violence – again, because low reporting means a lack of accurate data.

Other research claims that access to the sex industry can in fact increase incidents of sexual violence. A 2013 report by Garner and Elvines for Rape Crisis South London argued that an analysis of existing research found “an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women in non-experimental studies”.

Meanwhile, a 2000 paper by Neil Malamuth, T Addison, and J Koss suggested that, when individuals considered at high risk of acting sexually aggressively are studied, levels of aggression are four times higher among frequent consumers of pornography.

However, just as the research fails to find a causal link between access to the sex industry and reducing violence, there is no research proving a causal link between violent pornography and gender-based violence.

Instead, we have to look at the ethical and moral principles in an industry that creates models of women for men to orgasm into. Sex robots are, at their heart, anti-humanist. They replace women with plastic and holes. They create a world for their owners where women’s voices and demands and desires and pleasures – and right to say no – are absent.

That should trouble us – we are creating products for men which send a message that the best woman is a compliant and silent one. That the best woman is one who lies back and “likes what you like, dislikes what you dislike”, to quote the True Companion website, who is “always ready to talk and play” but whose voice you can turn off whenever you want.

“By transferring one of the great evils of humanity from the real to the artificial, sex robots simply feed the demon of sexism,” says Professor Alan Winfield of the Bristol Robotics Lab. “Some might say, 'What’s the problem – a sex robot is just metal and plastic – where’s the harm?' But a 'fembot' is a sexualised representation of a woman or girl, which not only invites abusive treatment but demands it. A robot cannot give consent – thus only deepening the already chronic and dangerous objectification of real women and girls.”

What research does tell us is that there is a clear link between violence and the perpetrator’s ability to dehumanise their victims. That, and a setting designed to eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, suggest that Frigid Farrah will have no impact on reducing sexual assault. Rather, it creates a space where rape and violence is normalised and accepted.

Instead of shrugging our shoulders at this sexualisation of male violence, we should be taking action to end the belief that men are entitled to women’s bodies. That starts by saying that rape is not an inevitable part of our society, and the danger of rape cannot simply be neutralised by a robot.

Sian Norris is a writer. She blogs at sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com and is the Founder & Director of the Bristol Women's Literature Festival. She was previously writer-in-residence at Spike Island.