Would the Daily Mail website fall foul of the online porn filters it has championed?

Ban this sick filth. No, not THIS sick filth, obviously.

David Cameron wants to block online porn, the Daily Mail reported approvingly this morning.

 

Now comes the big question: where the line should be drawn. If you're too lax, things slip through the filter; if you're too strict, non-pornographic images or sites get caught in the net. How do you tell what's pornographic and what isn't? "I know it when I see it," said Justice Potter Stewart in 1964. But it isn't that simple.

Despite the best efforts of programmers everywhere, you can't just tell a computer "block any page with an image or video of a female nipple or male or female genitalia" (a rule which, itself, would be hopelessly over-strict; farewell Titian! So long, Leonardo!). Instead, most blocking software uses contextual clues on the page to work out whether the site itself is problematic. That can be obvious: there are few safe-for-work sites which use the phrase "double penetration", for instance. Except this site, now – which explains part of the issue.

Existing filters show that if you want to make the blocking comprehensive, some of the contextual clues used have to be broad enough to make collateral damage certain. Blocking anatomical terms like "vagina" or "anus", for instance, frequently leads to sites discussing sexual health or feminist topics being caught up.

Meanwhile, humans - being cleverer than filters - learn to use terms which can't be blocked because they also have innocuous uses. (Take, at the extreme end, the use of "Lolita" to denote images of child abuse.)

The thing is, even if all the technological quirks were worked out, drawing the line is still hard, just in terms of choosing how prudish we as a nation are. So where do we start blocking?

Pictures of women in their underwear?

 

 

Sexual, nude but non-explicit photos?

 

 

Pictures of women with clearly visible breasts?

 

 

Topless pictures of prostitutes in 1940s Paris?

 

 

Playboy style photo-shoots?

 

 

Non-explicit pictures of people having sex?

 

 

Well, would you want your children seeing that kind of material? Ban this sick filth.

Oh, Daily Mail. Photograph: dailymail.co.uk

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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For the Ukip press officer I slept with, the European Union was Daddy

My Ukip lover just wanted to kick against authority. I do not know how he would have coped with the reality of Brexit.

I was a journalist for a progressive newspaper.

He was the press officer for the UK Independence Party.

He was smoking a cigarette on the pavement outside the Ukip conference in Bristol.

I sat beside him. It was a scene from a terrible film. 

He wore a tweed Sherlock Holmes coat. The general impression was of a seedy-posh bat who had learned to talk like Shere Khan. He was a construct: a press officer so ridiculous that, by comparison, Ukip supporters seemed almost normal. He could have impersonated the Queen Mother, or a morris dancer, or a British bulldog. It was all bravado and I loved him for that.

He slept in my hotel room, and the next day we held hands in the public gallery while people wearing Union Jack badges ranted about the pound. This was before I learned not to choose men with my neurosis alone. If I was literally embedded in Ukip, I was oblivious, and I was no kinder to the party in print than I would have been had I not slept with its bat-like press officer. How could I be? On the last day of the conference, a young, black, female supporter was introduced to the audience with the words – after a white male had rubbed the skin on her hand – “It doesn’t come off.” Another announcement was: “The Ukip Mondeo is about to be towed away.” I didn’t take these people seriously. He laughed at me for that.

After conference, I moved into his seedy-posh 18th-century house in Totnes, which is the counterculture capital of Devon. It was filled with crystal healers and water diviners. I suspect now that his dedication to Ukip was part of his desire to thwart authority, although this may be my denial about lusting after a Brexiteer who dressed like Sherlock Holmes. But I prefer to believe that, for him, the European Union was Daddy, and this compulsion leaked into his work for Ukip – the nearest form of authority and the smaller Daddy.

He used to telephone someone called Roger from in front of a computer with a screen saver of two naked women kissing, lying about what he had done to promote Ukip. He also told me, a journalist, disgusting stories about Nigel Farage that I cannot publish because they are libellous.

When I complained about the pornographic screen saver and said it was damaging to his small son, he apologised with damp eyes and replaced it with a photo of a topless woman with her hand down her pants.

It was sex, not politics, that broke us. I arrived on Christmas Eve to find a photograph of a woman lying on our bed, on sheets I had bought for him. That was my Christmas present. He died last year and I do not know how he would have coped with the reality of Brexit, of Daddy dying, too – for what would be left to desire?

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era