Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Science & Tech
22 July 2013updated 22 Oct 2020 3:55pm

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.

By Alex Hern

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.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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.