MPs' private porn habits contradict their public statements

Filtering software won't stop teenagers finding porn
Filtering software won't stop teenagers finding porn
Ian Dunt By

There have been a lot of scratched heads over the baffling highs and lows of MPs' porn use.

When Huff Po released the official figures under a Freedom of Information request earlier this week, the jumps in porn use were very confusing. What would bring MPs and other parliamentary staff to visit naughty sites 114,844 times in November 2012, but just 15 times the following February?

I myself couldn't really come up with an answer in this interview with Voice of Russia (done with both my Politics.co.uk and Erotic Review hats on), but I did seize the opportunity to make some broader, largely unconnected points about porn use and the political reaction.

Jon Baines has probably the most likely answer, which is that new definitions were added to the filtering software on those months. He also observed that the November spike coincided with the news of the scandal involving Jimmy Savile. So parliamentarians were being frustrated in their efforts to find out more about important issues around child safety.


What can we learn from this?

MPs' porn use, if indeed that's what they were doing, directly contradicts their opinions on porn.

The debate in parliament has focused on filtering software as if it were some kind of magic wand you could wave to make all the bad things on the internet go away. The prime minister has been particularly responsible for making parents feel there is a technological solution to the habit of teenagers wanting to see people having sex.

This is partly an inevitable but unfortunate side-product of democratic politics – people vote for those who say they can change things, not those who throw up their hands and profess their impotence.  Democracy has an aversion to people who recognise the limits of their power.

It is also a product of a political class with extremely low technological understanding. This is partly generational but even younger commentators radically overestimate what software can do. No algorithm will ever match the ingenuity of a human mind. Systems can be worked around.

Whenever we use filtering software, we miss porn which has been uploaded in such a way as to avoid it. But we also censor legitimate material, from NHS advice to academic work on sex offenders.

There are no catch-all technological solutions to pornography. The only real solution is to talk to your children honestly about what it is and what it is not. You should treat all politicians words on this subject with extreme caution.

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