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Wednesday, April 08, 2015 

Upon this tidal wave of internet sleaze.

If there's been any real underlying theme of the "short" campaign so far, beyond the obvious dividing lines established by Labour and the Tories, it's in how the smaller parties are still trying to deny they might be involved in anything as puerile as politics.  "I told you they were all the same," insisted the most boring man alive last Thursday (other than myself, natch), in spite of how he makes even hip to be square David Cameron seem positively alternative just by standing alongside him.  The Greens have just released their party political broadcast, depicting the big four as One Dimension and most likely blowing their entire campaign budget in one go, while last night Nicola Sturgeon was insistent she would help Ed Miliband into Downing Street, at the same time as ensuring the break up of the Westminster old boys' network.  Purists might suggest the best way to get Miliband as PM is to vote Labour, but that could be a little too obvious for these times.

You do of course understand.  Politics, like crevice, is a dirty word.  Westminster is even filthier, conjuring up images of snouts in the trough, flipped duck houses, not so old men in grey suits not being in touch with hard-working Brits who revel in their own ignorance, feculence and I'm already losing the will to live just by relaying the nonsense that has become the default setting for so much of our discourse.  What baffles is why, instead of fighting against this attitude, which isn't cynicism because authentic cynicism requires thought and so much of the "they're all the same" bullshit is just sheer laziness, politicians instead do their very best to fuel it.  The first campaign missive from my Labour candidate has arrived, and in the posting she insists she has no intention of becoming a "Westminster politician".  Forgive me if I'm being deliberately obtuse, but if she's elected she doesn't have any choice in the matter, unless she intends to not take up her seat ala Sinn Fein.  Yes, I know what she means; she isn't going to become that sort of politician, as though it's ignoble to want to be more than just a constituency MP, as though you can't be both.

I'd much rather if we're going to snort and shake our heads at the very mention of Westminster we do it for something approaching a decent reason.  Take for instance the mindbogglingly stupid pledge made by the Conservatives at the weekend that hasn't really had the attention it properly deserves.  "TIDE OF INTERNET SLEAZE TO BE HALTED" shrieked the Mail, the headline currently alongside an image of Kate Upton in her underwear.  Yes, after successfully dealing with the entire problem of kids being able to explore the wonders of fisting if they so wish by requiring ISPs to have online filtering turned on by default, the Conservatives now say that kiddiwinks are still having their lives ruined by catching a glimpse of a Japanese bukkake party.  Why, according to a totally legit survey conducted by the NSPCC and ChildLine, a tenth of 12-year-olds are "addicted" to online porn.  They're campaigning against it with, and I'm not making this up, Fight Against Porn Zombies viral videos.  Fapz.  Fapz.  Someone thought that was funny, clever and unlikely to be understood by the people who commissioned it.

All porn sites will then be required to have some sort of age verification system, beyond the you can only enter if you're over 18 yadda yadda warning most paid sites currently have, although the porn tube sites for the most part forgo even that.  This will apply whether or not they're based in the UK, the implication being that if they refuse to take part, as they will, as porn is not the guaranteed revenue generator it once was, those refusing to take part will be blocked.  Again, it's not clear how this will work, the suggestion being that ISPs will be required to block access to the sites in the same way they currently do the torrent and sports live stream sites that have a court order against them.

Why though stop there?  Why just require sites that define themselves as being pornographic to verify the age of their users?  Why shouldn't Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr have the same system in place when the first two serve as the main referrers to such material, while Tumblr is a veritable cornucopia of every fetish known to man, and plenty of others not yet identified by science?  Surely Xbox Live, Steam and Amazon should have a proper system in place to verify that 18-rated games and movies aren't being bought by children using their parents' details, or indeed to prevent the parents from irresponsibly giving in to the demands of little Johnny.  How many of our kids are watching videos on YouTube that are completely unsuitable for them, and shouldn't something be done about that?  Isn't it time the smut masquerading as news served up by the Mail, Sun and Star was put behind a not suitable for human consumption warning in all newsagents?

And so on.  As Gilad Rosner writes, such a system is technically feasible, except it would still be so full of holes as to be completely useless.  Unless the porn tube owners cooperated, and there's not the slightest indication they would, we'd just see the same thing that's happened with the "blocked" torrent sites: the springing up of mirrors that are not blocked.  This in itself wouldn't stop said torrent sites from being another major source of the sleaze polluting the minds of children, nor would it online lockers, let alone how we're also informed most 9-year-olds are playing I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours on Snapchat in any case.  Even if ISPs were required to be more proactive than they have been in blocking the proxies giving access to torrent sites, it still wouldn't stop anyone downloading Tor and getting around the whole shebang that way.  For the umpteenth time in history, what seems to be Conservative policy is denying adults the right to make their own decisions about what they watch on the completely spurious basis of protecting children.  It would be slightly more acceptable if the policy was workable; it isn't.

How lovely it would be then if prospective MPs, rather than feeling the need to make excuses for themselves from the very beginning, instead outlined how they be different from their predecessors.  Instead of sucking up to tabloid newspapers with a commercial interest in going after the full-on sleaze provided by their rivals, they could promise to vote on the basis of what is known to work.  They could make clear it is the responsibility of the parents to monitor what their beloved sprogs are watching online, their responsibility to ensure filters are in place, and most importantly, they are there to talk about something they've seen that may have upset them.  They could also set out the argument that it's the maiden aunts at the Mail and in the Conservative party that are preventing the desperately needed changes to sex education in schools, which is stuck back in the 20th century while the 21st roars by.  Or they could just stick to the party line and keep their heads down.  Which is what most of those currently pledging to not be "Westminster politicians" will almost certainly do once there.

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