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Published August 6th 2013

UK Internet Users Overwhelmingly Against New Porn Firewall

American politicians discovered last year just how unpopular it was to interfere with the operation of the internet when they announced the SOPA bill, designed to curb online piracy.

More recent internet scandals like the US PRISM debacle and the ongoing Rabbit Proof Firewall debates in Australia have also fuelled the fire, especially as Governments have now seen the power of the internet to incite political change in the wake of the Arab Spring, the #occupy campaign and the Brazilian riots, among others.

So what on earth was UK Prime Minister David Cameron thinking when he outlined the plans for a new filtered web for British citizens?

cameron

The proposal, scheduled for implementation next year, will automatically block everyone attempting to access adult material, with the only way to circumvent this resting in the individual having to contact the internet service provider to request that the content be made available.

Spearheaded by Claire Perry MP, the legislation makes a number of demands on ISPs and tech companies, supposedly in order to ‘think of the children‘.

It does raise a few questions: should the internet be limited in some way? Can the internet even be effectively censored like this? Will any legislation like this even make a difference to professional child pornographers and underage viewing of sexual material, which are supposedly the raison d’etre for the new measures?

The BBC article describing the changes has provoked thousands of comments, and social media has been alight with conversation about the policy.

Despite the release being buried in a news day featuring the birth of a new royal, plenty of people took to their cherished bastion of free speech to do exactly that: talk about their thoughts.

pornchart

The news was quick to spread, and reactions came in just minutes later.

Understandably, the topic is a controversial one, with different people placing the line between child safety and restrictions on civil liberties on either side of the legislation.

The second spike in the graph above (almost entirely negative in reaction) coincides with when the rumours broke that the Chinese Firewall facilitator, Huawei, was to be involved in the application of the new filtering technology.

Many commenters were also quick to point the fallacy in even trying to implement the ban, with NFSW images and videos appearing on sites as benign as Flickr and Vine, rendering much of the effort as worthless.

 

porncomment1

Likewise, some mentions focused on the advanced tech skills of child pornographers, suggesting they would easily bypass any blocks made to their already illegal operations, in much the same way they do now.

Others took this further, highlighting that many under 18s are actually far more technically literate than their parents, and even those drafting and enacting the policy.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 80% of the discussion was undertaken by males, though there is very little difference in the sentiment regarding the policy. 93% of emotive conversation by males was against the legislation, mirrored by a 92% rate among females.

porngender

Other major topics within the conversation were around a small tech story that featured Claire Perry’s woefully inadequate understanding and subsequent threats to Internet protester Guido Fawkes, as well as when Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales published comments disapproving of Cameron’s scheme.

porntopics

The news sites were largely neutral about the story, as they are supposed to be. Forums and blogs featured fairly balanced comments, with major forums like Mumsnet actually slanted towards a pro-legislation view.

Facebook and Twitter, very much their own beasts, were far more heavily skewed. The vast majority of discussion on the networking behemoths – which is also where most conversation took place – was rallying against the ‘porn firewall’, often using an array of expletives we can’t repeat here.

pornsentiment

Though this was just a simple surface-level analysis, it does indicate how listening to conversation online can act as a barometer of public opinion around policy.

Furthermore, though there are pitfalls in using social media research as an exclusive means of measuring sentiment around political issues, combining it with more traditional research methods can prove invaluable.

For more insights, articles and information on using social media with political institutions, read our section on Political Analysis or get in touch. You can also rest assured that our coverage will remain intact and unchanged after this change is implemented (we’re pretty certain of this, anyway).

In the same way brands can, organisations and even governments can harness the power of candid online conversation to understand and measure the impact of their operations, whatever they may be.

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