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.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.