Category Archives: News

The Porn Block Failed. Now the Next Ofcom Censorship Bandwagon Begins

This week, we learned that Ofcom is to be given censorship powers over social media and other web sites. This is merely the latest attempt by the regulator/censor to take control of online content.

For some years, this blog has covered attempts by the British state to censor the Internet. The original cover story for implementing this was an age verification system to ‘protect children from porn’. While this sounded reasonable on the surface, this idea required the state to be given the power to block websites that did not comply to the rules. And this required the creation of a state Internet censor with broad powers to block content. After spending more than a decade pursuing this goal, the government pulled the plug on the whole scheme last October; I explained the decision and the background here. In a later twist, the age verification industry announced last month that it is suing the government for cancelling the plans.

Behind the scenes, Ofcom has been lobbying hard. While Ofcom combines many roles and powers over the media and communications, of greatest concern (to me, at least) is its role as television censor. Not only does the regulator enforce tight controls over content broadcast in the UK, but it actually writes its own censorship rules. This effectively gives Ofcom the power to write British law without consulting Parliament, which is an astonishing amount of power for an unelected body to hold. And not only does Ofcom get to decide what is ‘illegal’, but it can issue huge fines to anyone who breaches its ‘laws’. Ofcom is thus judge, jury and executioner.

Broadcasters can be fined hundreds of thousands of pounds for breaching the Ofcom censorship code. Naturally, the end result is that British broadcasters self-censor in order to avoid the risk of being fined. The regime disproportionately affects smaller broadcasters, many of whom could barely afford a fine at this level.

Unsurprisingly, Ofcom’s censorship power is seen by many as a threat to civil liberties. Even David Cameron, in 2009 before he became Prime Minister, promised to cut Ofcom’s powers, and in particular to remove its undemocratic ability to write policy. Once he had been elected, however, his plans sank without trace.

The new announcement, in which Ofcom was officially put in charge of regulating the Internet, was widely expected. Few anti-censorship campaigners had believed that October’s announcement was a full-scale victory for free speech. The regulator will be given the power to fine sites that fail to deal adequately with two types of content: illegal and “harmful”. In the case of illegal content, Ofcom will check that sites act quickly to take down content which is criminalised, from terrorist propaganda to child abuse imagery.

Harmful content is harder to define, because it refers to content that is legal to publish, but might breach sites’ own standards. There is a long list of content categories potentially considered harmful, including sexual, nude or erotic content, violent content, information related to self-harm or suicide, and of course, the ethereal and ever-expanding category of “hate speech”.

Deciding what is harmful is very much a subjective decision, and will vary from site to site. Readers might remember the hilarity that ensued when – encouraged by the government – many ISPs rolled out parental control filters in 2013. The filters blocked all sorts of sites that did not appear to be in any way harmful, from the Liberal Democrats’ LGBT site to this blog. I still often receive messages complaining that Sex & Censorship is inaccessible from some places. This eventually mattered little, as most broadband customers simply switched their filters off anyway.

While Facebook may have the resources to police its user-generated content, most sites do not. Any site that accepts comments (for example, this one, as well as most news services), or hosts a forum, will likely be covered by the legislation. It is unclear, in any detail, who might be affected, and how. But one things is certain: Ofcom censorship of the Internet is set to become a reality.

Just as with the now-defunct Porn Block, we are at risk of being bounced into disproportionate and draconian action based on poorly-defined ‘harms’ and moral panics. Although it is easy to be swept up by carefully-orchestrated panics over hate speech, self-harm, bullying and other important issues, it is important that we do not allow the state to use these concerns to encroach on free speech.

Subscribe

* indicates required

The Age Verification Industry is Suing the Government for Scrapping the Porn Block

Long-standing readers of this blog will know UK government attempts to censor the Internet under the banner of “child protection”. For years, media regulators and sections of government made the argument that online pornography was harming children. Given that there was little evidence to support this, they relied on disseminating moral panics in order to bounce government into taking action.

Various vested interests were rallied to support these panics and add a level of credibility. These included anti-sex feminists – who added a ‘women’s rights’ narrative, and the NSPCC (a child protection charity) which lent its brand to spreading dubious claims about porn addiction. I documented these campaigns in my book Porn Panic.

The solution offered by the regulators (which was passed into law in the Digital Economy Act of 2017) was to force porn providers to verify the ages of their visitors. While this might have sounded reasonable to the unaware, this would have involved large amounts of infrastructure spending in three places: first, porn vendors would be required implement age verification systems; second an “age verification regulator” (the BBFC) would be given powers to act against porn companies that did not comply; and third, ISPs would be required to block sites if ordered to do so by the BBFC.

Expensive change is always good for someone. In this case, the biggest winner would have been the Age Verification industry, which would have been granted a large state-enforced market. Unsurprisingly, members of the AV industry were often involved with lobbying activities, designed to make the case for the porn block. The AV industry also became a regular sponsor of adult industry events, in anticipation of the day that the porn companies would be forced to use their products.

Then after the election of Boris Johnson as the Tory Party leader, in a rare display of common sense, the government suddenly scrapped the scheme. This was good news for anti-censorship and privacy campaigners, but less good news for the AV industry.

Now, four AV industry providers (AgeChecked Ltd, VeriMe, AVYourself and AVSecure) are suing the government for £3m for changing its mind. Watch this space for more.

BREAKING: Ofcom Signals Switch to Stronger TV and Streaming Censorship in Leaked Email

Yesterday, Ofcom circulated a confidential email to broadcasters signalling its intention to increase the strength of its censorship regime. This has been provided anonymously to Sex & Censorship, and is published in the public interest.

Ofcom is better known as the UK’s media and communications regulator, but it is also the UK’s media censor. It is hugely powerful and well funded, formed by the merger of multiple earlier regulators covering various sectors of TV and radio. It has always applied ludicrously stringent censorship, often driven by compaints from a handful of individuals, and it throws out huge fines for the smallest of infringements. Its power began to be eroded by the rise of the internet, broadband, and streaming services, but it has long signalled that it intends to extend it remit over all forms of communication.

Ofcom not only censors the British media, but actually writes its own censorship policy – surely something that should be done by government with parliamentary oversight, rather than an unelected body. British (small-L) liberals have long worried about Ofcom’s power. David Cameron, possibly the most liberal of all Tory leaders, signalled his intention to drastically reduce Ofcom’s power before the 2010 election. Presumably, his wrist was slapped by the establishment, and his pledge was never heard of again.

Yesterday’s email reads as follows:

From: Ofcom Standards Team <OfcomStandardsTeam@ofcom.org.uk>
Sent: 18 November 2019
Subject: Note to Broadcasters – Daytime chat and adult chat television services

Classification: CONFIDENTIAL

Dear Licensee

We would like to draw your attention to the Note to Broadcasters featured in Issue 391 of Ofcom’s Broadcast and On Demand Bulletin which was published today.

The note reminds broadcasters of daytime chat and adult chat services of Ofcom’s guidance in this area and puts these broadcasters on notice that it will be commencing a targeted monitoring exercise of these services. [my highlight]

Yours sincerely

Standards and Audience Protection team

The linked document is worth reading, because it gives an insight into the tight level of monitoring to which broadcasters are subject. Ofcom has the power to levy fines of hundreds of thousands of pounds, without recourse to the courts. For smaller broadcasters (and streaming companies), these would be impossible to bear. Broadcasters have no option but to tightly self-censor, or be put out of business.

As an afterthought, consider in this context the Labour Party’s recently announced plans for a state-owned, free broadband service. It is unimaginable that the government-run broadband service would allow this to function like a normal ISP that allows full access to the internet, including sexual material or open discussion of difficult issues related to race, sexuality or gender. Given the Tories’ recent attempts to censor the internet, I am deeply distrustful of both major parties with regard to civil liberties, and am keeping my fingers crossed for a hung Parliament.

BREAKING: The End of the UK ‘Porn Block’? Explaining the background to today’s government decision

Today, it was announced that the UK government’s plans to introduce age verification for online porn, and to block any content that did not comply, were being shelved.

For me, it all began about 12 years ago. I was running Strictly Broadband, a British streaming porn movie rental site, which was one of the UK’s best known porn outlets. I began to hear that the British Board of Films Classification (the BBFC – formerly, and more accurately, known as the British Board of Film Censors) were investigating the idea of classifying online streaming movies, in the same way they already did for cinema and DVD releases. Given that porn was heavily restricted on DVD (and completely banned in cinemas), this was worrying for the British industry, which would have to heavily cut content to conform to British standards.

We were already beginning to suffer from the effects of free content from the newly-launched ‘tube’ sites such as Youporn.com, so this was unwelcome news for an industry that was already struggling.

I went to the meet the BBFC’s new Head of Online, Pete Johnson, to discuss his plans. He was introducing a scheme called BBFC Online, under which movies should display the appropriate BBFC certificate (which was either 18 for soft titles or R18 for hard ones, although many titles that were legal in the EU or USA would not be allowed at all). Johnson explained that the scheme was voluntary, but would likely be adopted soon by UK regulators. My team implemented BBFC Online on our site, but we were just about the only site to do so, and the scheme failed.

Johnson, however, jumped ship to run a new regulator, ATVOD, which would report to Ofcom, the UK’s giant media regulator and censor of TV and radio. Again, I met with him, and registered my site with ATVOD (and paid the hefty registration fee). ATVOD was supposed to be a general-purpose regulator of all video-on-demand (VoD) services, but Johnson appeared to have a particular obsession with regulating pornography.

ATVOD’s Rule 11 was especially suspect. It required adult sites to verify the ages of all visitors before allowing them to view any content. This age verification was far more than just a button saying “I’m Over 18”. Sites were required to check age using a credit card (debit cards were not considered secure enough) or some other method, such as a passport check. To implement this would have simply meant that we went bust. I began lobbying on behalf of the industry, pointing out that there was no point simply chasing us all out of business or offshore; but the regulator seemed to relish the chance of destroying the UK’s small adult industry.

Johnson began to pick on a series of small sites – mostly those whose owners had made contact with him to enquire about the regulations. Then ATVOD served notice on Playboy TV and my own business. Playboy (who were by now owned by the biggest porn company) simply closed their UK operation and migrated to Canada. Given only two weeks to comply, I had little option but to sell my site and close my company.

However, ATVOD was short-lived. Johnson’s porn obsession was annoying the big broadcasters – BBC, Channel 4, Sky, and so on – who were largely funding the regulator. Eventually, Ofcom closed ATVOD down, and took the regulation in-house. This was not the end of attempts to censor pornography, but the start of an escalation.

In 2016, Ofcom began a consultation on adult content, to which I submitted a response. This appeared to be rigged, with the outcome predetermined to recommend censorship. Sure enough, Ofcom rapidly announced that children were indeed threatened by the existence of online porn, and that legislation was required to protect them (aka give Ofcom powers to censor the internet).

The legislation (the Digital Economy Act) was rolled out in April 2017. This created the role of Age Verification Regulator, and granted this new regulator powers to fine and disrupt services that did not verify the ages of visitors. It was later announced that the AV regulator would be the BBFC (which was no doubt grateful, as its business from DVD censorship was quickly dying).

More significant, it was announced that ISPs would be required to block sites on a blacklist provided by the BBFC. This would be the most powerful internet censor in British history – and possibly in any democratic country.

However, the immense cost of the block, and various civil liberties issues, appear to have finally changed the government’s mind, and they pulled the plug. This is bad news indeed for the BBFC and the age verification industry, but good news for civil liberties. However, the government ominously suggests it will continue to act against “Online Harm”. It may be that, given the rise of social media in the past few years, the blocking system simply makes little sense any more. Far easier to threaten Facebook and Twitter to control what content can be shared on their platforms.

Watch this space for the next thrilling installment…

Obscenity law liberalised

This is a cross-post from my contribution to the Adam Smith Institute blog.

Last week the Crown Prosecution Service published updated guidance for prosecutions under the Obscene Publications Act (1959). Legal campaigning has brought about a big change: the liberal tests of harm, consent and legality of real acts are now key parts of their working definition of obscenity. The CPS explain:

… conduct will not likely fall to be prosecuted under the Act provided that:

  • It is consensual (focusing on full and freely exercised consent, and also where the provision of consent is made clear where such consent may not be easily determined from the material itself); and
  • No serious harm is caused
  • It is not otherwise inextricably linked with other criminality (so as to encourage emulation or fuelling interest or normalisation of criminality); and
  • The likely audience is not under 18 (having particular regard to where measures have been taken to ensure that the audience is not under 18) or otherwise vulnerable (as a result of their physical or mental health, the circumstances in which they may come to view the material, the circumstances which may cause the subject matter to have a particular impact or resonance or any other relevant circumstance).

The guidance supports a realistic notion of consent which means that depictions of most safe, consensual activities under the umbrella of BDSM are unlikely to be subject to prosecution:

“Non-consent for adults must be distinguished from consent to relinquish control. The presence of a “gag” or other forms of bondage does not, without more, suffice to confirm that sexual activity was non-consensual.”

The CPS acknowledge the damaging impact on the rule of law when prosecutors rely on subjective notions when making charging decisions:

“An ill-defined concept of moral depravity or corruption does not provide for legal demarcation of sufficient precision to enable a citizen to regulate his or her conduct. However, where conduct or an activity is itself criminalised, that may be a clear indication as to its tendency to deprave or corrupt.” 

This is a substantial improvement for the OPA which has previously been used to prosecute consensual sexual expression, including publications depicting and defending LGBTQ sexual practices.

For now, the guidelines relate only indirectly to decisions to prosecute for possession of Extreme Pornography (Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008). They appear to clarify that prosecutors should not normally be targeting depictions or records of legal acts between consenting adults. This avoids the logical incoherence at the heart of previous obscenity definitions that meant people could be prosecuted for publishing or possessing visual records of practices that were perfectly legal to conduct, such as fisting.

This is good news for liberals and anyone with an interest in freedom of sexual expression. We have to remain vigilant to see how prosecutors use these guidelines in practice. But this is at least a substantial improvement on past definitions that provided little guidance for citizens, producers or prosecutors.

What is responsible for this surprisingly liberal turn? There is little we can say with absolute certainty other than that the CPS has wisely chosen to adjust its prosecution practice to better reflect contemporary public attitudes towards minority sexual practices and porn producers.

There are a few likely contributors to this reform. Various, sometimes overlapping, strategies formed an ecology of activism and advocacy that changed the legal and policy environment. Central to the story is the civil liberties group Backlash (declaration of interest: I have volunteered my research expertise at Backlash). It began as an advocacy group, campaigning against the extension of obscenity law to include possession of extreme images that the Home Office presumed to be a necessity in the Internet age.

After the law was passed despite well-informed opposition, obscenity lawyer Myles Jackman joined Backlash as legal advisor. In a switch in strategy, Backlash started providing legal advice and financial support to defend some criminal allegations that involved consenting acts between adults.

Juries tended to favor the defence in these cases that Backlash identified as consensual. Juries rejected prosecutions for the possession of erotic horror images, possession of fisting and urethral soundings, ‘twink’ porn, as well as the sale of fisting videos. These criminal cases couldn’t set legal precedents as they never got to the stage of appeal. Nonetheless, these failed prosecutions probably deterred the CPS from pursuing many future cases.

Meanwhile, other campaigners brought this issue to wider public attention. Jerry Barnett’s website Sex and Censorship and book Porn Panic helped to link the anti-porn agenda to a wider pro-censorship movement that is now prominent in some Internet political movements. Sexual freedom campaigner, Charlotte Rose, organized a ‘face-sitting’ protest outside Parliament aimed specifically at new media regulations and helped to raise the profile of sexual freedom more generally.

The protest attracted mainstream media attention. Pandora Blake used regulatory action against her website as a test case to quash some of the more subjective regulations. Blake then ran a campaign to show that it was the Obscene Publications Act, underlying these new inconsistent and censorious regulatory practices, that needed reform. The lost cases and reaction from vulnerable parties together prompted the CPS to consult on adjusting their guidelines to better represent what the general public evidently thought to be worthy of criminalization and censorship.

Obscenity and pornography regulation has attracted a great deal of scholarly interest. Initially, from critical supporters of the ban on extreme pornography from the field of feminist legal theory. Media communications scholars, especially Feona Attwood and Clarissa Smith, in the nascent porn studies sub-discipline, challenged the idea that porn had systematically negative impacts on culture, society and the status of women.

My article, ‘Millian Liberalism and Extreme Pornography’ showed that there was a surprising overlap between the interests of queer sexual politics, including the freedom to engage in transgressive expression and a right to establish safe spaces for minorities to support and cultivate their identities, and the classical liberal approach to freedom of expression and association. My Adam Smith Institute report, ‘Nothing to Hide’ argued for making consent to legal acts the primary way of judging the legality of sexually explicit images. It prompted LGBTQ media to highlight the risks of the law for their audience, and to start quizzing the Home Office about how they intended the law to be used.

Initially, academic feminist proponents of the extreme porn ban, including Clare McGlynn, sought quite a broad application.  They argued explicitly that the law should not apply to a narrow notion of harm but also to ‘cultural harm’ or the imputed indirect, social impact of the availability of pornography, not just those participating in the acts themselves). More recently, these proponents have accepted a greater role for consent in defining the limits of image prohibition.

They now focus on the problem of ‘revenge pornography’ (the non-consensual sharing of sexually explicit private images). In contrast to ‘extreme pornography’ and obscene publications in general, ‘revenge porn’ constitutes a personal violation and severe social problem that both liberals and feminists agree requires civil and criminal remedies. Fortunately, there has been some degree of agreement on where future criminal justice activity needs to be directed.

Criminal obscenity law is just one strand in a tangle of issues threatening sexual expression and freedom of expression in the UK. This change doesn’t do very much to make the government’s age verification system and broader surveillance of Internet access safe. It only marginally improves the legal protection of sex workers who use or offer online services. So there are a great deal more liberal reforms needed. Nevertheless, this success shows that campaigning, through legal challenges, protests and informed scholarship, can lead to genuine reform. I see this as a model for future campaigns aiming for greater personal liberty.

Digital Rape? The Parliamentary “Sexual Harassment” Report is a Sweeping Attack on Civil Liberties

Tuesday was one of those days that pop up a few times a year for me: a phone call from a media outlet (in this case talkRadio) alerts me to the fact that porn is in the news again. Would I be interested in joining a discussion about porn being a “public health crisis” at five past 11?

Of course, I would: defending the indefensible is my niche. So I dutifully appeared on talkRadio, followed by BBC Radio Leeds and (later that evening) Newsnight.

Porn is a “public health crisis”?

The claim that porn has created a “public health crisis” is not an evidence-based one, but in fact emerged from America’s religious right a couple of years ago, and has been used by right-wing state legislatures to pass anti-porn legislation. This is simply the latest salvo in a war on pornography being fought by Republicans and anti-porn feminists for the past four decades.

Now, worryingly, the claim had been regurgitated by the parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee, and has appeared in a report they published this week, that has deeply worrying implications for civil liberties.

Panic!

The report is one of the worst examples of “porn panic” I’ve ever seen, and I (literally) wrote the book on this subject. It makes ungrounded, hysterical claims based on anecdotal evidence:

“sexual harassment in public places … is a routine and sometimes relentless experience for women and girls”

This claim isn’t supported by empirical evidence, and there certainly isn’t evidence it’s been getting worse, but the porn panic (most recently in the form of the #MeToo movement) has established that it is bad, and is getting worse, and that if you question the witch-hunt, you must be a witch.

Having established that women and “and even girls in school uniform” are being harassed and assaulted literally all the time in oh so many ways, the report then quickly gets to the something must be done moment: “Sexual harassment is never acceptable, and women and girls should not be expected to endure it.” Anyone questioning the report hereafter is clearly implying that harassment is acceptable and that womenandgirls should have to endure it.

What’s to blame?

What’s to blame for this virtual holocaust of harassment? Porn, of course!

“There is significant research suggesting that there is a relationship between the consumption of pornography and sexist attitudes and sexually aggressive behaviours, including violence”

Readers of this blog, and my book, will know that this simply isn’t true. In fact, one of the widest-reaching meta-studies on porn-and-harm ever commissioned was carried out by Ofcom on behalf of the British government, which concluded:

“There seems to be no relationship between the availability of pornography and an increase in sex crimes in other countries; in comparison there is more evidence for the opposite effect.”

In plain English, porn isn’t harmful but it does appear to reduce sexual violence.

This important conclusion appears somewhere in the middle of a 146-page report which the government published in 2011, and then went on to completely ignore as it continued blaming porn for every (often imaginary) problem in society.

What must be done?

So, having established the falsehoods that 1) unspeakable horror is occurring and 2) it’s porn’s fault, the report then goes on to make an incredibly broad set of scattergun recommendations which are unsupported even by the preceding nonsense.

The government’s position to date has been that porn is fine, so long as it isn’t “extreme” or “obscene”, and is only seen by people over 18. The UK already has some of the tightest pornography restrictions of any democratic country. However, this report challenges that position, complaining that the government:

“…has no plans to address adult men’s use of mainstream online pornography”.

This throwaway line is a huge shift in the anti-porn movement, away from “child protection” to “all porn is dangerous”.

Some of the report is vague but ominous:

“set out a comprehensive programme of work to make all public places safe for all women and girls”

And some of it just ominous:

“The Government should take an evidence-based approach to addressing the harms of pornography, similar to the huge investment there has been over many years in tackling road safety, or preventing public health problems caused by lawful behaviour such as smoking.”

(2017 road deaths: 1,710; tobacco deaths: 80,000; porn deaths: nil).

The recommendations stop trying to pretend that porn causes harassment, and just assume that porn and harassment are basically the same thing:

“Bus regulations should be amended to prohibit sexual harassment and viewing pornography on buses.”

Thus, in future, a person viewing porn on a bus will count against the sexual harassment statistics, which will push up arrests for harassment and “prove” the problem is getting worse.

There’s random stuff like:

“Universities should have a legal obligation to have policies outlawing sexual harassment…”

Of course, universities do already have policies in this area. This sounds like America’s Title IX which set loose a wave of “rape on campus” hysteria out of all proportion with reality, and a situation where two students could be deemed to have harassed each other.

There’s also a weird dig at strip clubs, which picks up on (false) claims by feminists that strip clubs were causing rape:

“Local authorities must consult local women’s groups and sexual violence specialists when deciding their policies on licensing strip clubs and lap-dancing clubs.”

Can you rape someone via WhatsApp?

But the most worrying recommendation is as follows:

“A new law should be brought forward on image-based sexual abuse to criminalise all non-consensual creation and distribution of intimate sexual images, on the basis of the victim’s lack of consent rather than perpetrator motivation.”

This appears to mean that anyone sending a sexual image to another person could be criminalised if the recipient denies consenting. I’m on a couple of WhatsApp groups where short porn clips are sometimes shared: now, just by receiving one of these clips (which are always unsolicited), I could claim to have been the victim of sexual violence. Likewise, this would open up anyone involved in sexting to a claim of sexual harassment (and for many teens, sexting is a normal part of relationships today).

We are at the point where any sexual contact, even digital, may fall into the same category of offence as rape. Sex, in virtually any context, is now considered problematic. While these ideas were once the preserve of an extremist clique of feminists, they are now actively discussed in the British parliament.

Incel, Sexual Frustration and Male Violence

The aftermath of the recent van attack in Toronto, which resulted in the deaths of 10 people, followed a now familiar pattern. Immediately after the attack, people divided into their rigid political tribes. Right-wingers expressed the belief (possibly even the hope) that the attacker was an Islamist. Even if he wasn’t, they said, this is surely the modus operandi of the Islamist terrorist. Similarly, left-wingers quietly hoped they could somehow pin this on the alt-right.

Such is the sad state of political discourse today: blaming the opposite side has become more important than respectfully remembering the individuals who died. The need for “our side” to be good and “their side” to be evil is now stronger than the need for compassion and human kindness. Politics is no longer politics: it has become religion.

The attacker, it turned out, was declared to be an Incel: an involuntarily celibate man. Incel is defined by Wikipedia as: “online communities whose members define themselves by being unable to find a romantic or sexual partner”.

This news was seized on with enthusiasm by the identitarian left. It perfectly fitted the “toxic masculinity” and “systemic misogyny” narratives of neo-feminism. And it gave a chance to mock those who had confidently pinned the attack on Muslims. Like most political narratives today, of left or right, it was sneering, hateful, triumphant, and an excuse to hate a broad group of people for the actions of one person. This is all so predictable now. If Owen Jones hasn’t yet penned a Guardian opinion piece on how all men need to take responsibility for this murderer, he will soon.

But there is a broad truth here, about humans as a species, and it’s about sex. If the mass media and the political establishment weren’t so tightly wed to social-construction theories of human behaviour, they might realise that evolutionary, genetic and psychological science has far better explanations for these occurrences than sociology can provide.

I have said, repeatedly, that a rise in violence is the inevitable outcome of attacks on sexual freedom. In my 2016 response to Ofcom’s consultation on porn regulation, I warned the regulator as follows:

“…the government’s own research suggests that restricting sexual imagery to teenagers may result in a rise in sexual violence…”

The government ignored such feedback, and has pressed ahead with censorship plans that will cause a rise in sexual and other violence: we must hold them to account for this.

Involuntary celibacy isn’t new: it is an ancient condition of mankind. Sexual relations between humans, in all societies, are defined by the fact that women, not men, choose mates. Given a free choice, women will opt for the genetically and socially fittest mate, even if he already has other mates. So polygyny (one man with multiple mates) is the predominant form of family unit in ancient societies. Recent genetic research has revealed the astounding fact that, 8,000 years ago, women were 17 times more successful at mating than men were. In other words, for every man that mated, there were at least 16 who never did. This gross inequality in the distribution of sex has defined the human state for most of our existence.

Women, past or present, have had no problem finding mates: the issue for women is to find the best available mate. For men, on the other hand, the issue has been simply one of mating at all. The rise of civilisation in the Middle East gave rise to new ideas, including egalitarianism. For the first time, societies recognised the unfair distribution of sex, and set out to balance this. This can be clearly seen in the writings of the Abrahamic religions: ancient Jewish law is inclined towards monogamy, and Christianity strongly so. Islam imposes a limit of four wives.

Although state-imposed rules on marriage are increasingly seen as outdated, the imposition of monogamy was radical and egalitarian. It recognised that most men were losers in the mating game, and that this situation created grave problems for society, including sexual violence.

Put simply, a truth about humanity is this: the more sexual frustration that exists, the more violent society will be. Anyone who has travelled in sexually repressed cultures will be aware of this: for example, while we travelled in Morocco, my partner was groped repeatedly, even in my company. When I attended a hip hop festival in Morocco, fist-fights broke out constantly around me, despite the almost complete absence of alcohol. Sexually frustrated men are more likely to be violent, it’s this simple.

The Incel phenomenon isn’t just confined to angry western men. The promise of “72 virgins in heaven” to Al Qaida terrorists was a strong motivation for their mass murder. The promise of sex slaves in Syria was a motivation to go and fight jihad there.

The rise in sexual freedom since the invention of the pill has created new problems to solve. Monogamy is declining, and the number of single men has increased, especially among those with autistic and other social disorders. There are remedies to this new sexual tension: free pornography, legal and destigmatised sex work, and (in the near future) realistic sex dolls. The easier and cheaper sex and relationships (even virtual relationships) are to find, the less sexual frustration we will have to deal with. And the less frustration, the more peaceful and safe society will be.

Later this year, the British authorities will attempt to block pornography from exactly that segment of the population that is most inclined towards violence: 15-18 year old teenage males. They are creating a tinder box. Please help me fight back.

Teenager Convicted of Hate Crime for Posting Snap Dogg Lyrics

Every now and then, I need to take a step back and check I’m not exaggerating the looming threat to free speech. And then, along comes a story like this, which confirms: nope, things are bad for free speech, and they’re getting worse. This week, things took another little turn for the dystopian when a teenage girl was convicted of racism for posting rap lyrics on Instagram.

Yes, you read that correctly. A British teenager has been convicted for posting the lyrics from a rap song (I’m Trippin’ by Snap Dogg) on a social media site. As if to illustrate a fundamental problem with censorship, we don’t know exactly which lyrics she posted, because news sites didn’t specify. Thus, not only is the girl being censored, but so is coverage of the “crime”.

To give a feel for the Orwellian atmosphere, here’s the BBC trying to report the trial, without itself offending anyone:

“The words Russell used on her account contained a racial label which some people find extremely offensive… PC Dominique Walker… told the court the term was “grossly offensive” to her… Russell’s defence had argued the usage of the word had changed over time and it had been used by superstar rapper Jay-Z [at Glastonbury]…”

Being somewhat braver/stupider than the BBC (and having listened to the track), I’m going to hazard a guess that the word was Nigga, a term that is liberally used in hip-hop (and, of course, has its roots in the racism of the old US Deep South).

This court case is worrying at multiple levels, and should deeply concern anybody that is worried about the future of the Internet as a free medium. It provides yet more evidence that the Establishment has now seized on “hate crime” as a tool of authoritarianism. PC is no longer the realm of well-meaning (if misguided) students, but of the police state. As I’ve blogged previously, Theresa May – hardly a well-known leftie – previously banned Tyler the Creator, a rapper, from touring the UK because his lyrics were deemed to be misogynist and homophobic. Did May genuinely care about the feelings of people who never listened to Tyler’s music anyway? Or did she simply enjoy finding a new excuse to ban a black man from entering the country?

Context should be important, and yet has been apparently ignored by the court. The fact that the girl (it seems) meant no offence is deemed to be of no importance. The fact that the word formed part of a song was of no importance. The fact that the word was not being used to abuse somebody was of no importance.

The ruling, bizarrely, appears to have been strongly influenced by the view of an individual police officer, who claimed the word was “grossly offensive” to her as a black woman (one presumes that she isn’t a fan of the work of Snap Dogg and other rappers). In doing so, the court has made a deeply racist judgement that the view of one black woman is representative of all black people. No white person would be deemed capable of speaking for white people – so why does the legal system patronise black people in this way?

Not all black people agree with PC Walker. The rap artist Greydon Square makes this clear in his hard-hitting tune, N-Word. In 2007, the black American (but London resident) comedian Reginald D Hunter named one of his stand-up tours “Pride, Prejudice and Niggas”, and was promptly banned from advertising it on London transport. If anything illustrates the madness of censorship, it’s the irony that a black man from the Deep South was censored by a British bureaucracy in order to protect the feelings of black people.

The teenager – whose name I won’t repeat here, but who has been named in the mass media – is now branded a racist: something she probably is not. This, in the current era, is akin to being labelled a “communist” in 1950s America.

Most of all, the ruling raises a serious question about impending censorship of the Internet. Snap Dogg’s videos and lyrics can be found on YouTube and in many other places. Should his work now be taken down, to avoid offending people like PC Walker? Of course, this would apply broadly to hip-hop, as well as to literature and cinema.

People that think the state might censor non-black people, but not black people, for use of the offending word, is doubly naive. Firstly, that would be illegal under equality law. And second: Really? Which part of “the lessons of history” did you miss?

The word also appears in the great anti-racist novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Would the state be misguided enough to censor this  work too? I think they just might.

SESTA, FOSTA, the End of Craigslist Personals, and the War on Sex

I have long predicted that the porn panic – the war on sexual expression – would engulf content far beyond pornography. The takeover of the British anti-censorship movement by members of the fetish-porn scene has thus been frustrating, as it has suggested that the threat to free speech is about the needs of people with unusual sexual tastes. I have predicted, in particular, that dating sites like Craigslist would be hit hard, as they allow people to post adult images on their ads. Last week, Craigslist did indeed close its dating section, but in response to legal changes in the US, rather than the UK.

While the UK’s attacks on Internet freedom have focused on the “need to protect children from pornography”, US attacks have focused on prostitution (labelled as “sex trafficking”). Using the latter excuse, the United States just approved a pair of laws, known as SESTA and FOSTA, which criminalise online services that enable “sex trafficking”. While this might seem a worthy effort, when one scratches the surface, we find the hand of anti-sex feminism at work, as usual, and the story is not as it seems.

The trafficking panic has been rising for a decade, and has long ago been exposed as largely mythical by tireless campaigners such as Brooke Magnanti and Laura Agustin. Magnanti’s book The Sex Myth outlines how the panic rose in the UK, leading to Parliament approving funds to tackle sex trafficking; but although anti-trafficking campaigners had claimed thousands of victims, the police could find hardly any. Agustin, in her book Sex in the Margins, outlines how illegal immigrant women enter the sex industry voluntarily as an alternative to lower paid (illegal) hotel work, but are dismissed as “victims” by campaigners.

Illegal immigrants who sell sex are thus labelled “trafficked women”, and then rescued. Agustin refers to the anti-trafficking movement as the Rescue Industry. The Rescue industry is, in reality, a merger between the anti-prostitution movement and the anti-immigration movement. Now, when brothels are raided to “rescue” trafficked women, the women are often sent to asylum camps before being deported – hardly the rescue of helpless victims that people tend to imagine.

Despite the fact that genuine victims of sex-trafficking are more rare than one would assume from reading the headlines, politicians have been persuaded otherwise. The first American victim of the panic was Backpage.com, which last year was forced to drop its famous escort listings. SESTA / FOSTA is the latest example of this. American sex workers have strongly opposed the new law, arguing that without places to advertise, they will be forced underground, and inevitably face more dangers as a result. The police too say that street prostitution has increased since Backpage was closed. But the Rescue Industry is now a well-funded juggernaut with the power to shout far louder than sex workers.

Once escort ads were banned, US sex workers moved to classified ad platforms like Craigslist, which have never allowed blatant escort advertising. When SESTA / FESTA was approved last week, Craigslist had little choice but to close its dating section – a little corner of Internet freedom that has thrived for years.

Although SESTA / FOSTA doesn’t apply in the UK (where anyway, prostitution is legal), Craigslist is a US business – so the UK has lost one of its most vibrant dating and adult contact services.

What is the future for UK escort listing sites like Adultwork.com and Viva Street? On paper, there is no reason for them not to continue. But I predict that the Digital Economy Act, which already enables porn censorship, will inevitably be extended to block new categories of content, and that “trafficking” will feature in the next list of targets.

Psychologist Hounded and Censored by Anti-Sex Activists

Dr David J Ley, a psychologist specialising in sexual matters, and especially pornography, has recently been at the receiving end of a barrage of online abuse, following the announcement he would be speaking at a conference on the treatment of adolescent sex offenders. Dr Ley (author of Ethical Porn For Dicks) was due to give a speech titled: “Promoting Responsible Porn Use in Youth and Adolescents”.

Sexual violence is highest in the adolescent age group. An influential study called Pornography, Rape and the Internet (PDF) found that pornography viewing appears to significantly reduce sexual violence in this age group:

I find that the arrival of the internet was associated with a reduction in rape incidence. While the internet is obviously used for many purposes other than pornography, it is notable that growth in internet usage had no apparent effect on other crimes. Moreover, when I disaggregate the rape data by offender age, I find that the effect of the internet on rape is concentrated among those for whom the internet-induced fall in the non-pecuniary price of pornography was the largest – men ages 15-19″

So anyone with an interest in reducing sexual violence – one might assume – would have found Dr Ley’s talk informative and beneficial. But morality campaigners thought otherwise, and set out to get the talk cancelled.

The tweets varied from the infantile…

 

… to the murderous…

 

… and of course, someone managed to blame capitalism (because nobody EVER thought of wanking before Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations)…

 

 

 

Ley’s Speech Cancelled

Following the abuse, and a letter-writing campaign to the conference organiser, Dr Ley’s invitation was withdrawn, and he will no longer be speaking at the event. The letters repeated standard myths about pornography, and contained veiled threats to disrupt the conference:

“You are hosting the porn industry. This is quite likely to increase sex trafficking at the hotel where hosting!
I certainly will raise my voice and bring women to protest this conference!!
We will protest the venue as well as the entire conference. Pornography does not help sexual offenders!

88% of porn is sexual violence!”

Sexual Repression is Harmful

We need to retake the moral high ground: We believe sexual repression is harmful. We believe sexual freedom reduces harm. The puritan left, like the religious right, would return us to the sexual dark ages, and that will be deeply harmful for everyone.