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The UK has now entered a draconian era of porn prohibition

How the Digital Economy Bill will infringe on our freedoms. 

This article was first published in November 2016. The Digital Economy Bill was granted Royal Assent on 27 April and has now become law. 

“Won’t somebody please think of the children?”

Helen Lovejoy’s signature Simpsons line can now be used to accurately summarise the latest developments to the government’s Digital Economy Bill. The proposed legislation, which was first introduced to Parliament in July, has always aimed to enforce age verification on pornographic websites so that they cannot be accessed by children under the age of 18. On Sunday, however, new measures were announced; all websites that do not implement age verification will be banned in the UK.

“The government is committed to keeping children safe from harmful pornographic content online and that is exactly what we are doing,” said Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. “Only adults should be allowed to view such content.” The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has been appointed to enforce these measures.

In short, what this means is that our privacy and security are now under threat. Fears abound about how age verification will work, as being forced to reveal your identity before accessing porn will open the doors for hacking, blackmail, and potentially, credit-card fraud. Beyond this, however, the governmental blocking of websites on moral grounds sets a scary precedent for our future, particularly considering the phrasing of the Bill, which discusses “adult” sites with no exclusive emphasis on pornography.

“Blocking sites that don't comply could lead to tens of thousands of websites being blocked, despite their content being perfectly legal. This is unprecedented in the developed world,” says Jim Killock, executive director at Open Rights Group, an organisation that aims to raise awareness of digital rights. “Child protection is important, but this proposal is disproportionate. Web blocking should be reserved for illegal and harmful content.”

This development comes after the Investigatory Powers Bill was passed last week, a move that the actual inventor of the actual world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, marked with the words: “Dark, dark days.” The IP Bill passed with little public resistance and it seems the government is relying on this same apathy, combined with a British reluctance to talk about – and admit to watching – pornography, to pass this law.  

As British citizens, however, we must protect our rights as wankers of the world. No one can protest the notion of “protecting children” – though whether pornography is actually that damaging to adolescent brains is also up for debate – but there are far easier, less draconian measures that can be implemented.

“According to Ofcom, over 90 per cent of parents mediate their children’s online activities in some way,” says Killock, referring to the abundance of parental controls that exist to limit children’s internet activity. “Children need better education not censorship, if we are to keep them safe.”

The majority of households in the UK are also childless, so enacting this measure across the board seems unnecessarily punitive. To use a simple, real-world analogy, this law is like forcing adults to hand over their ID, bank details, and be put on a list in order to enter a sex shop, when parents could instead simply stop their children from reaching for the door handle.

The move is also idiotic because it is impossible. The government has underestimated the power of horny teenagers to bypass their restrictions and the law will therefore ironically punish the old – ie. those who have never heard of a VPN – who might open themselves up to malware in their efforts to find accessible porn sites.

The issue, however, goes far beyond our sexual freedom. Even if you don’t watch pornography, you should be concerned by the precedent the government is setting to control and censor our online habits. If this Bill is passed, the government will have unprecedented abilities to block sites without a lengthy judicial process, and by making it illegal to circumnavigate these blocks, they will have greater control over us all.

In order to protect ourselves from a dawning era of porn prohibition and internet censorship, we must act now. The Open Rights Group has created a petition to prevent the censorship of legal content, and you can also take it into your own hands and write to your own MP to oppose the Bill. You can protest in person or on social media, and help by spreading news about the proposed laws. Most importantly of all, however, we must loosen our stiff British upper lips and admit, once and for all, that we are all wankers.  

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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The mother lode: how mums became the ultimate viral fodder

The internet’s favourite joke used to be "your mum". Now it's "my mum".

“I was like: oh my.”

Terri Squires is describing her reaction to the news that she had gone viral. Last month, more than 213,000 people shared a tweet about Terri – but it wasn’t sent from her account. The 50-year-old Ohioan was propelled to internet stardom by her son, Jeff, who had tweeted about his mother.

“I didn’t really realise what it meant at first until he was like: ‘Mum, you do realise that millions of people have looked at this?’ … When I started seeing those numbers I was like: ‘Oh boy’.”

It’s a funny story – and Terri laughs heartily all she tells it. After coming out of a meeting, she checked her phone and noticed a picture of a missing – white – dog on Facebook. She quickly texted 17-year-old Jeff to check that the family dog, Duey, was safe. “That’s not Duey… Duey’s face is brown,” replied her son. “OK – just checking,” replied Terri.

More than 600,000 people “liked” Terri’s mistake after Jeff shared screenshots of the text message exchange on Twitter. But Terri is just one of hundreds of mums who have gone viral via their sons and daughters. Texts mums send, mistakes they make, things they fail to notice – these have all become the ultimate viral fodder.

In the last three months alone, Gerald’s mum went viral for a microphone mishap, Adam’s mum shot to Twitter fame for failing to understand WhatsApp, Lois’ mum got tricked by her daughter, Harry’s mum was hit in the head with a football, Hanna’s mum misunderstood a hairstyle, and Jake’s mum failed to notice her son had swapped a photo in her home for a portrait of Kim Jong-un.

But how do the mothers behind these viral tweets feel?

“I'm pretty much a mum that everybody wants to talk to these days,” says Terri, with another warm laugh. The mum of three says going viral “is not that big of a deal” to her, but she is happy that her son can enjoy being a “local superstar”. But is she embarrassed at being the punchline of Jeff’s joke?

“Believe me, I have thick skin,” she says. “I kinda look at what it is, and it’s actually him and his fame. I’m just the mum behind it, the butt of the joke, but I don't mind.”

Not all mums feel the same. A handful of similar viral tweets have since been deleted, indicating the mothers featured in them weren’t best pleased. A few people I reach out to haven’t actually told their mums that they’re the subject of viral tweets, and other mums simply don’t want any more attention.

“I think I’ve put my mum through enough with that tweet already,” says Jacko, when I ask if his mum would be willing to be interviewed. In 2014, Jacko tweeted out a picture of his family writing the word “cock” in the air with sparklers. “This is still my favourite ever family photo,” he captioned the tweet, “My mum did the ‘O’. We told her we were going to write ‘Love’.”

“No one ever expects to call home and say ‘Mum, have you heard of something called LADbible? No, you shouldn’t have, it’s just that a quarter of a million of its fans have just liked a photo of you writing the word ‘cock’ with a sparkler’,” Jacko explains.

Although Jacko feels his mum’s been through enough with the tweet, he does say she was “ace” about her new found fame. “She’s probably cooler about it all than I am”. Apart from the odd deletion, then, it seems most mums are happy to become viral Twitter stars.

Yet why are mums so mocked and maligned in this way? Although dads are often the subject of viral tweets, this is usually because of jokes the dads themselves make (here’s the most notable example from this week). Mums, on the other hand, tend to be mocked for doing something “wrong” (though there are obviously a few examples of them going viral for their clever and cunning). On the whole: dads make jokes, mums are the butt of them.

“We all think our mums are so clueless, you know. They don’t know what’s going on. And the fun thing is, one day we come to realise that they knew way more of what was going on than we thought,” says Patricia Wood, a 56-year-old mum from Texas. “People always kind of make fun of their mums, but love them.”

Last year, Patricia went viral when her daughter Christina tweeted out screenshots of her mum’s Facebook posts. In them, Patricia had forgotten the names of Christina’s friends and had candidly written Facebook captions like: “My gorgeous daughter and her date for formal, sorry I forgot his name”. Christina captioned her tweet “I really can't with my mom” and went on to get more than 1,000 likes.

“I felt, like, wow, it was like we’re famous, you know. I thought it was really cool,” says Patricia, of going viral. Her experiences have been largely positive, and as a part-time Uber driver she enjoys telling her customers about the tweet. “But I did have one bad experience,” she explains. A drunken passenger in her car saw the tweet and called Patricia an “asshole”.

Another aspect of viral fame also worried Patricia. She and her daughter were invited on a reality show, TD Jakes, with the production company offering to pay for flights and hotels for the pair. “I have too many skeletons in my closet and I didn't want them to come dancing out,” says Patricia, of her decision not to go. “By the time I got off it, it would be the Jerry Springer show, you know. I’m kind of a strange bird.”

On the whole, then, mothers are often amused by going viral via their offspring – and perhaps this is the real beauty of tweeting about our mums. Since the moment they earn the title, mums can’t afford to be fragile. There is a joy and relatability in “my mum” tweets – because really, the mum in question could be anyone’s. Still, from now on, mums might be more careful about what they tell their sons and daughters.

“When I send Jeff a text now I make sure I’m like: ‘Is my spelling correct? Is what I’m saying grammatically correct?’,” says Terri, “Because who knows where the words are gonna end up?”

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.