No Niagara Falls Review, Age Verification is No Replacement for Basic Parenting

An article in the Niagara Falls Review argues that Canada needs age verification, but the case presented for it is pitifully weak.

Age verification is, simply put, a dangerous idea. For years, we’ve been living in an era where online companies try and pry as many intimate details out of everyone and profit off of it afterwards. Whether its geolocational information, tracking everything we access, pulling demographic information, or more, every piece of our lives have been widely been turned into a commodity. With the prevalence of data brokers and large social media websites, we’ve gotten to the point where a significant data breach registers as little more than basic media background noise even though such incidences should be treated seriously.

Simply put, the privacy situation, especially in Canada, is abysmal and multiple governments have continued to be reluctant to do anything about it.

Yet, what age verification does is mandate that even more personal information get put into the ether. In fact, the information age verification requires for basic operation demands that a massive database of anyone and everyone who accessed pornographic content be created. This is not a database of throwaway e-mails either. Rather, it requires highly specific information such as drivers licenses, social security numbers, or something else that makes it crystal clear who is accessing such content in the first place.

A database of that highly sensitive nature should never exist. The possibilities that such information could get stolen and used as fodder for holding random individuals at ransom are endless. With the existence of Facebook, it can be easy to find contacts of an individual and create a list. After that, the victim would then get a threatening message: pay up (insert sum here) or these individuals are going to find out what you have been viewing.

The threats that such a system poses is very real and is a huge threat to the safety and security of every day people. The last thing society needs to do is put more personal information directly in harms way.

Yet, for one writer for the Niagara Falls Review, none of these threats are real and they rely on the classic moral panic argument of “think of the children”. The article kicks off with the classic scaremongering lead that children are all accessing the most horrible content right now:

The internet wasn’t designed with children’s safety in mind. Yet in this digital age that’s exactly where they’re spending time — for school, socialization and entertainment.

As you read this, children are being exposed to graphic sexually explicit material that is accessible in seconds.

So, with that fearmongering, the article then says that there is only one solution to this massive problem (there isn’t), and that is with age verification:

The government can help prevent this by requiring adult websites to use an age verification process before allowing access to their content. Unfortunately, the Liberal government just turned down an opportunity to do so by rejecting an amendment to its Online Streaming Act, Bill C-11, which aims to modernize Canada’s broadcasting legislation by including online undertakings.

First of all, the tools necessary to prevent such activity already exists today. There’s an endless supply of tools for website filtering today. Some are offered by ISPs. Researching for such software is not that hard. Just Google internet filtering software and you’ll get results that offer different pieces of software that you can put on your computer or device.

What’s more, basic parenting goes a long way. Having a talk with your children and educating them on such topics is a tried and tested way of preparing your children for certain aspects of adulthood. When the time is right, teaching your children that what is depicted in pornography is extremely far removed from real life. Pointing out that people in still images are often heavily photoshopped or airbrushed to depict a fantasy version of the human body is another valuable thing to teach. Education is huge in this area and will always be leaps and bounds more effective than any restriction the government could ever mandate.

Second of all, this is one decision that the government actually got right in this whole Bill C-11 debacle. They rejected age verification in Bill C-11. This is for a whole pile of good reasons:

  1. Age verification was never appropriate for this bill as it took on a topic that was outside the scope of the bill
  2. No one during the senate hearings verbally asked for such a provision. It was simply a pet project by a Senator which rightfully got smacked down
  3. What did get inserted was terribly defined. How large does a website have to be? How much content has to be on the site in order to require such a provision? What information is being asked? How should such information be stored? None of that was defined in the provision that was inserted.
  4. Age verification was never actually studied during the process of studying this bill, so it makes having an informed position all but impossible
  5. It represented a significant risk to people’s personal privacy and was rightly slammed by digital rights advocates over it even being included in the bill in the first place

Simply put, the government had every right and reason to reject that amendment. It was cheaply shoehorned into the bill and should never have been passed in the senate in the first place.

The article then goes on to push further into the moral panic side of things with this:

While our attention can quickly move on to other issues, let’s pause a moment and realize what’s at stake here. We need the government to follow through and swiftly act on this. Let us not forget who this measure protects and why that protection is necessary. Every delay leads to more children being harmed.

Research shows children are encountering sexually explicit material at increasingly younger ages. For example a study by the British Board of Film Classification revealed 51 per cent of 11 to 13 year olds had already been exposed. The percentage increased to 79 per cent for older minors. Over half of these minors saw sexually explicit material unintentionally. What are they seeing? Titles such as “Daddy keeps f–ing daughter till she likes it,” “Beach spy changing room two girls,” and “Crying blonde b–h takes rough c-t drilling.”

I would apologize for including the titles above, but if children can stumble upon them, we need to talk about them. These are typical examples from a study that found that at least one in eight titles on the home pages of popular pornography sites describe sexual violence.

Once again, this highlights the need for basic parenting, not government intervention. As already highlighted above, this is not a clear cut and dried problem and solution situation by any means. If the parents lack the tools to educate their children, then maybe we as a society need to make educational programs more well known. What’s more, we are relying on a study from another country about a different population on top of it all. Using that actually weakens the argument for this in the first place. Further, the study in question was looking specifically at depictions of sexual violence, not necessarily what young people are being exposed to. A bit of a logical fallacy there.

The article then dials up the moral panic to 11 with this:

And what is the impact? Two decades worth of peer-reviewed research documents various harms associated with youth being exposed to sexually explicit material. These include confusion over sexual expectations and consent, mental-health challenges, low self-esteem, body-image insecurities, and being a perpetrator or victim of sexual aggression.

Exposure to sexually explicit material poses a serious threat to the well-being of children. We don’t allow children to buy alcohol, gamble or attend sexually explicit films at theatres, yet online they can stumble on adult content in seconds.

We must act to protect children’s rights to life, survival, and development.

I honestly didn’t think this needed to be explained, but people are not being killed by the act of watching online porn. That’s just absurd. Further, the article mentions 20 years of research which would suggest that information was being looked at dating all the way back to 2003. This would also imply that people are not exclusively being exposed to porn through the internet as the technology back then wasn’t anywhere near what it is like today. Has the author ever heard of a “dirty magazine”? One can only imagine he authors reaction to the idea of late night television. Since exposure isn’t exclusively tied to the internet in that time frame, it also suggests that looking exclusively at restrictions on the internet won’t actually be all that effective.

With all of this misguided commentary, the author concludes with the following:

While this won’t be included in Bill C-11, other bills such as Bill S-210 and the anticipated online harms legislation can accomplish this.

The path forward will take work, but we must commit to walking it knowing it is both achievable and urgently necessary.

So, what can we glean from this piece based on what we know?

  1. Age verification is ineffective
  2. Age verification doesn’t protect the children as exposure can very easily happen offline as well
  3. Age verification threatens the lives of every day citizens by making them more vulnerable to malicious third parties
  4. Age verification is no replacement to basic parenting
  5. The tools for those worried about this already exists and can be used today
  6. Age verification was rejected in Bill C-11 for very good reasons
  7. There is no effective argument for age verification laws

Simply put, that article we quoted is bad and the author should feel bad for writing it. The silver lining in all of this, though, is that it shows that there is no sound argument for age verification from supporters of its supporters. So, there’s that.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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