Tag Archives: porn panic

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…

PANIC!

BBC 5 Live debate – “Is Pornography a Public Health Issue?”

Yesterday, BBC Radio 5 Live dedicated an hour to discussing the alleged threat posed to public health by pornography. The programme made little attempt to ask balanced questions, or examine any evidence beyond the anecdotal. Instead, it was premised on the assumption that porn poses a threat to society, and that “something must be done”.

I was invited on to the programme to discuss the issue. Before I joined the discussion, I listened with incredulity as a BBC-approved, evidence-free anti-sex moral panic was broadcast to the nation. I was eventually added to the discussion, and did my best to counter the misinformation, though no real time was allowed for discussion of solid evidence.

You can listen to the debate on iPlayer. The discussion starts at 8:00, and I join around 43:30. To support my work against censorship, please consider a small contribution to my Patreon campaign.

London Event: Jerry Barnett Speaking at Jordan Peterson Discussion Group

Event alert: Tuesday 27th February, London.

I’ll be speaking about the Porn Panic (the new war on sexual freedom and free expression) to the “Jordan Peterson Gentlemen’s Philosophy Meetup”, tomorrow evening. The event appears to be popular, so please RSVP if you intend to come.

The event isn’t directly related to Jordan Peterson, but was set up by some of his admirers. For those who don’t know, he’s a professor of Psychology and author who has recently gained notoriety for his defence of free speech and evidence-based discussion. His recent, bewildering, interview with Cathy Newman for Channel 4 News is worth watching: Newman appeared to repeatedly attempt to twist Peterson’s words and cast him (inaccurately) as an opponent of gender equality. The discussion – on why men and women make different choices and have differing outcomes – illustrates the cutting edge of science versus dogma – the new Darwinism vs Creationism. The fact that science is now regarded with suspicion by the political and media mainstream has deeply worrying implications, and is one of the issues I touch on in my book.

I’ve also created a Patreon campaign to help support my campaigning work. If you support my campaign against censorship and sexual repression, a small monthly contribution will help me create more content and speak at more events. I think we live in dangerous times – if you agree, please help me spread the word.

Porn Panic! Attacked on “Level Up” Facebook Group

Thanks to a supporter who contacted me via my Facebook page, I discovered that my book Porn Panic! has been briefly discussed on a Facebook feminist group called Level Up. Which is nice – except that the discussion is deeply inaccurate, and handily illustrates some of the deep  problems within the identity-obsessed left that my book identifies.

I should point out here (to anyone poised to suggest that my taking issue with feminism is “sexist”) that the book has been well reviewed by female reviewers and readers, including this lovely tweet received today:

So anyway, the Level Up thread (shown in this screenshot) begins by complaining that Porn Panic! conflates “objecting to the objectification of female bodies with censorship” (followed by a sad/angry face).

It then proceeds with a series of increasingly wrong claims. I applied to join the group in order to respond (politely, of course!) but it’s looking like my application is being overlooked. Hence this post.

Having been branded everything from a Nazi to a misogynist and (this week’s favourite insult) an alt-right sympathiser, I think it becomes ever more important to correct false claims.

Do I conflate objecting about objectification with censorship?

Yes, pretty much. Not directly, but by pointing out that claims of “objectification” invariably come along with “something must be done!” demands. The deeper point is that objectification itself is a dodgy concept, suggesting that one woman can demand another woman’s image be removed, simply on the basis they’re both women. So a model doesn’t have a right to work, because feminists demand a right for no woman, anywhere, to be “objectified”. It’s nonsense, of course – the only person who has a right to decide where her image is seen is the person who owns the body in the image, not random strangers. “Objectification” has become an excuse for bullies to attack the right of women to self-expression.

Do I claim feminism is a driving force for censorship?

Yes, very much so. The poster complains that  I equate censors with “feminists complaining about sexism”. That’s not very accurate, except in the sense that some feminists don’t know the difference between sexism and sexual expression. So when a feminist says “sexualised music videos are sexist and something should be done!” then really they’re saying “erotic images of women are harmful and must be censored”. Porn Panic! documents many real-life examples of this behaviour.

Am I connected with Spiked?

A commenter responds: “A quick google suggests that the author is connected with the vile brigade of Spiked”. Quick googling has replaced genuine research for many people online. I can only assume she found a review of my book in Spiked. But then, the book has also been reviewed (favourably) by feminist bloggers, and nobody’s suggested this connects me to feminism.

Are Spiked vile? “Vile” is one of those words that identitarians (including feminists) seem to throw around with abandon. Spiked is an interesting publication, with roots in the far-left Revolutionary Communist Party, but currently is a blend of liberal/libertarian and other viewpoints. I support the excellent Spiked defence of free speech, which is desperately needed in these censorious times. Spiked is refreshingly radical on other issues too, though we part company on issues like Brexit (I’m a staunch remoaner).

Have Zero Books gone all libertarian?

The commentor goes on to say: “…Zero Books which used to be a very interesting publisher has been literally taken over by the Spiked/Institute of Ideas crowd and they seem to publish little else than their questionable ‘libertarian’ stuff…”

I’m incredibly proud to have been published by Zero Books. They’re a left-wing imprint that (unlike much of the left) hasn’t been gripped by authoritarian or identitarian viewpoints. My publisher Douglas Lain seems to be one of the few Marxists left in the world who knows what Marxism is; and though I no longer call myself a Marxist, it’s important to differentiate between Marx’s ideas and the claptrap spouted by most “Marxists”. I’m also an ex-leftie left distraught at the atrociously reactionary state of the political left, so Zero Books is my ideal publisher. Unlike many on the left, ZB looks for intelligent viewpoints from many sides for their podcast and YouTube channel. They have not “literally” been taken over by Spiked, Institute of Ideas (which is linked to Spiked) or libertarians.

Freeze Peach is bad, m’kay?

The poster replies: “Eurgh yeah I’ve seen way too much of Spiked moaning about freeze peach on university campuses. They can’t even be bothered to find out what freedom of speech entails” – which is pretty hilarious, as she goes on to say “…no platforming is people demonstrating freedom of action!” (No Platform being one of the most blatant forms of censorship now prevalent on the left).

“Freeze Peach” is a way of sneering at free speech that has become fashionable among lefties (the fact they need to sneer at free speech  at all is revealing). Ironically, I even mention the term in my book:

Free speech, once the bedrock of liberalism, has – quite literally – become a dirty word on the political left. For a while in 2014, it even became fashionable for some online activists to mock the defence of free speech as FREEZEPEACH, using the argument that free speech cannot be allowed while some groups remain oppressed. The argument is a circular one, because in the swamp of identity politics, some groups are deemed to be permanently oppressed, by definition. So the argument goes: all women are oppressed; all men are privileged; therefore men cannot have free speech, because they use it to oppress women.”

I’d welcome the chance to discuss these points further via the Level Up group or elsewhere. You know where to find me!

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.

Jeremy Hunt’s Curious Sexting Ban

(This article first appeared in the i newspaper under the title “A proposed ban on teen sexting is just another excuse to spy on our phones”)

Taken in isolation, Jeremy Hunt’s suggestion that teenage “sexting” should be banned might seem like one of those quaintly out-of-touch things that fuddy-duddy Tory ministers tend to say. After all, a generation of teens have had access to camera phones and smartphones, and have (unsurprisingly) used them to share photos and videos of their naughty bits. And teens were the first adopters of SMS 20 years ago, and (also unsurprisingly) used the technology to send each other dirty messages. Hunt’s target group, everybody under 18, is an odd suggestion, given the age of consent is 16.

And then, when you take a moment to consider how such a ban could be implemented, you realise just how ludicrous the suggestion is. Does Hunt seriously think that mobile phone networks, WhatsApp, Apple, Facebook, Gmail and a plethora of other platforms should all install technology to ensure that under-18s don’t send each other sexual content? And if they do, then what happens when they catch a repeat offender? Do the morality police arrest them, and perhaps take them away for a programme of modesty and decency training?

But although the temptation is to gently mock politicians who say such silly things, such outbursts should be taken seriously, especially in the current authoritarian climate. As I outline in my book Porn Panic!, sex is regularly used as an excuse to justify attacks on both privacy and free speech (terrorism being another favoured excuse). The Snoopers’ Charter represents the greatest attack on online privacy in any democratic country, ever. And the recent announcement that porn sites are to be blocked is also unprecedented in a “free” country. Britain is trying its best to become China.

If you’ve been paying attention for the past few years, you’ll have seen multiple government attempts to spy on, or block, Internet communications, using a variety of excuses. Perhaps the first example came during the 2011 riots, when the government and police blamed services like Blackberry Messenger and Facebook. Then in early 2015, in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, David Cameron threatened to block encrypted services like WhatsApp and iMessage. Twitter, a popular platform for free speech, regularly comes under attack by assorted moralists and control-freaks for not censoring its users enough. So far, these companies have – to their credit – largely resisted UK government attempts at intrusion, and even strengthened their encryption. They are mostly US-based, and protected by the US Constitution. This infuriates the UK authorities.

To implement Jeremy Hunt’s apparently simple anti-sexting proposal would require wide-scale automated spying using intelligent text-recognition and image-recognition technology. Such technology would, of course, be able to spot a far broader range of thoughtcrime than sexting. And once in place, of course mission creep would set in. Why not use it to identify drug users, tax evaders, or racists?

Some would argue that this is desirable: after all, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide, right? But if we are to introduce automated policing of speech and behaviour, and erode our right to privacy on this scale, we need a serious discussion in Parliament and beyond. Instead, our rights to privacy and free speech are being eroded step-by-step, in a series of small, quiet nudges.

In The Press

It’s been a busy week for me, following the (totally unsurprising) announcement that the BBFC will be getting the power to block websites that breach its own rules. Or to put it another way, a private organisation is going to be writing its own law and applying its own punishments without oversight from Parliament or the courts.

Below are some press links from the Guardian, Huffington Post and the Independent. These are article I’ve written or in which I’ve been quoted. I’ve also been on the radio, and have made a video on this subject.

 

Podcast 13: Interview About Porn, Identity Politics and Fascism with C-Realm Radio

This podcast contains an interview of Jerry Barnett of the Sex & Censorship campaign, by KMO of C-Realm radio in Vermont. The discussion looks at the history of porn, anti-sex feminism, illiberal liberals, “cultural appropriation”, censorship and the new fascism. It was conducted two days before the US presidential election.

Porn Panic! Reviewed at Spiked Online and Elsewhere

Porn Panic! – my book on sex, censorship and fascism – has been on sale for two months, and is receiving strong reviews. You can support my campaign against censorship by buying a copy, and spreading the word to your social networks. In fact, since Christmas is almost upon us, why not buy copies for your politically-minded friends and family?

Below are three recent reviews of the book.

1. Spiked Online

The latest review was written by Helene Guldberg for Spiked Online:

Barnett recognises that to defend free speech we need to wholeheartedly defend the right of those with whom we disagree to say and think whatever they want. We have the right and capacity to challenge or ignore them, as we see fit. ‘Only a true elitist could try to dictate which ideas other people have access to, rather than join the debate and win by force of reason’, he writes. The most shocking aspect of the new forms of censorship for Barnett was the near silence on this issue from so-called liberals. ‘I found many apparently liberal people were only opposed to censorship of things they enjoyed, but would not extend that principle to things they disapproved of.’

You can read her full review at Spiked

2. Emmeline Peaches

Porn Panic! was also recently reviewed by Emmeline Peaches, a sex blogger, feminist, and social and cultural historian. While she finds areas of disagreement, she concludes:

Porn Panic! is an indisputably addictive read and I loved every minute of it. Porn Panic!isn’t just a book—it’s a call to arms (or activism) for anyone who is truly passionate about the adult industry or our freedom as a nation.

As soon as I was done reading Porn Panic! I couldn’t help but recommend it to others, I want everyone I know to read this book and I want to discuss it with them and hear their own thoughts and opinions. For a book that rails against our culture’s current attempts to keep sex and pornography hush-hush I cannot think of more appropriate nor higher praise than that.

Read her review in full at Emmeline’s site

3. Jay Blevins of Awen Therapy

Jay Blevins is a sex-positive therapist who deals with a wide range of issues including: depression, anxiety, marital and relationship issues, personality disorders, low self esteem, stage of life issues, compulsive behaviors, divorce, parenting and co-parenting issues, physical and sexual abuse, trauma and with  alternative lifestyle clients and issues including transitioning transexuals, coming out, polyamory, fetishes, kink and bdsm.

I’m grateful that he took time out to read and review Porn Panic! He writes:

Barnett’s book is in some ways a brutal, but thought-provoking, read. While much of the focus of the book is on efforts to censor porn, the best part of the book is how Barnett looks at the historical perspectives on porn while it deftly intertwines critical analysis of those perspectives. And when I say brutal, I mean Barnett pulls no punches. He clearly shows how the ongoing battle against porn is fueled by emotion, moral judgment, and religion as opposed to research, evidence and logical, rational thought…

I doubt this book will do much to change the hearts and minds of the most strident anti-porn crusaders. However, for anyone open to critically thinking about the issue, this book is fantastic. It is thorough, thoughtful, and easy to read. Both porn and censorship are important topics of great relevance. I encourage everyone to read this book!

Read the full review at Jay’s website