NOT The Readers’ Wives

Imagine my glee this week when Elaine, valued subscriber to NOT the Berwickshire Advertiser, left this comment:

I wonder if you realise that we’re not allowed to read your most excellent blog in the public library? Home broadband problems recently drove me to the library, and when I attempted to click on the link to your blog I got a stern warning that I was breaching the ‘acceptable use policy’ of Northumberland County Libraries.

Now, there’s a lot of information to absorb here so I’ll take you through it to ensure a thorough understanding.

“Your most excellent blog” — I think we’re all in agreement that we’re dealing with an intelligent contributor to our little community. We can trust whatever she has to say. She is safe.

“Home broadband problems recently drove me to the library” — two points to note:

    • it implies that this blog is so gum-rubbingly moreish that people have to leave their homes in order to score a ten-bag of NOT BAd’s sarcastic joie de vivre. This blog literally saves libraries from closure and, by extension, pensioners from being bludgeoned into handing over their BT Home Hub.
    • it allows me to pick the scab off the sore point of the region’s shoddy internet provision, although to be fair I have been able to soothe my weeping connectivity with a salve made from Sir Alan Beith’s retirement news. The longest-serving Liberal MP since Lloyd George boasts of being a long-term campaigner for decent internet provision and dualling of the A1. Long-term campaigner? Surely that simply means somebody who’s managed to keep a chocolate teapot warm over a flame of bugger-all for an indeterminate length of time. Still, he’ll be able to give his pouring arm a rest when he passes the teapot to someone else in 2015.

      Diagram of how a chocolate teapot works

      So it does work, kind of. Shit. I hate it when that happens.

“When I attempted to click on the link to your blog I got a stern warning that I was breaching the ‘acceptable use policy’ of Northumberland County Libraries” — this is the very definition of ‘Zeitgeist’.

Guardian readers have been wringing their hands like darling Tuscan peasants in a lavender field ever since they first read about David Cameron’s sweet but misguided suggestion that the internet might be a more pleasant place if less porn was available for kids to access. The Guardianista is torn, see? On the one hand, the Mumsnet contingent would like to see all porn banned to prevent Theo and Arty from becoming self-expressive sex pests; on the other, censorship could endanger their right to tell fat poor people to make the change to olive oil.

Until they make their mind up, the prime minister stands alone, a modern-day Canute, trousers rolled up while a swelling tide of sexual violence and perversion slaps around his ankles as it erodes and deposits… erodes and deposits… irretrievably changing the landscape of children’s sexual development.

While no one could, in all conscience, argue against Cameron’s ideals — we’re all with Whitney on this one, we believe the children are our future — the filtering tool he wants to use to control this unrelenting longshore drift of abusive pornography is too crude. It would be like trying to pick out the sherbet pips from a bowl of Smarties wearing boxing gloves.

Northumberland County Libraries are merely demonstrating this precise problem — and you’ve probably experienced similar difficulties if you’ve tried to access the internet from other public institutions such as schools and colleges. A quick shuffle through the Council’s Internet Access Policy for Libraries reveals that:

The Council will adopt filtering to block access to sites that fall into the following categories: adult/sexually explicit, criminal skills, gambling, hacking, illegal drugs, intolerance and hate, spyware, violence and weapons.

Here at NOT BAd the nearest we get to being sexually explicit is scratching our arse while trying to come up with our next golden thought shower. Criminal skills? Yep, absolutely shocking. We enjoy a scratch card as much as the next low wage earner, only ever hack with a cold and, besides, ‘illegal drugs’ is open to interpretation. Admittedly we are Guardian reader and socialist intolerant, but that’s because they’re stupid. As far as Spyware is concerned, it’s how 007 keeps the crunch in his HobNobs and, oh, we have been accused of being in possession of both a blunt manner and a sharp tongue so, okay, hands up to carrying.

See what I mean? While the Council says:

In providing internet access Libraries will: act in accordance with the principles of freedom of thought and expression
regardless of their background …


The policy will allow access to social media networking sites including but not limited to: blogs …

if you express your freedom of thought using words that the filter deems… genital referencey? A little bit stabby? — there’s a good chance your site will be blocked. If Cameron pushes ahead with the mandatory ISP filter programme, thousands of channels depicting LOL pussies and puppies will get dumped and drowned in the same sack as channels depicting things not remotely LOL at all. Suddenly Friday afternoons will seem a lot longer for a lot of people.

Even innocent words — words a distillate of Taylor Swift before she became bitter — could get caught in this all-encompassing dragnet, unable to escape like so many undersized tuna. Elaine suggested my name could be the reason behind Northumberland County Council expelling NOT The Berwickshire Advertiser from its libraries’ doors, for such is the cunning of porn site SEO that even a nom de plume inspired by Virgin Airways could be considered a window on a three-way donkey novelty act.

Grooming. A word open to interpretation.     (c) David Caird

Grooming. A word open to interpretation.     (c) David Caird

Naturally, I’ll be contacting Northumberland County Council to get this blog removed from their blocked list; as it says itself, the purpose of its Internet Access Policy is to:

provide access to information and services in libraries which meet the needs of the communities they serve.

And face it, you need NOT BAd. Well, it’s either us or Sir Alan Beith.

What are your thoughts on Cameron’s proposed porn filter — knee-jerk reaction or is it time someone took a stand? Is it workable or completely pie-in-the-sky? Please leave a comment via the button at the top of the page.


11 comments on “NOT The Readers’ Wives

  1. What are your thoughts on Cameron’s proposed porn filter — knee-jerk reaction or is it time someone took a stand? Is it workable or completely pie-in-the-sky? Please leave a comment via the button at the top of the page.
    David Cameron has not had a sensible, original thought in his life. With his PornFilter(tm) the man who admits he lets his three year-old daughter play with his iPad, has shown staggeringly new levels of parental hypocrisy. However, the fact that David is dunderhead aside, his PornFilter(tm) is modelled on an idea remarkably similar to that of TalkTalk. I’m sure that the fact that the CEO of TalkTalk shared a flate with Cameron, D, for several years is, you know, coincidence. Speaking as someone who knows how the internet works – a little more than David Cameron does – this is the most obvious piece of Daily Mail electioneering, since David Cameron proposed that Maggie Thatcher be given a (not quite) State Funeral. I wouldn’t want you to think I have it down on Dear David. He is, after all, my very own MP (against my voting pattern). But if I were looking for dirty dirty images, or dirty dirty films, on the internet, the first place I would be turning to would *not* be google or any other search engine. And in closing (get on with it, Ed), anyone who thinks the PornFilter(tm) is infallible and not open to hacking by any halfway competent pre-teenaged scripter, is as distanced from the harsh world of reality as David Cameron.

    • Hi Brennig

      Do you think it’s hypocrisy or techy ignorance? He’s made muttered threats against ISPs to bend their will to solving the problem of blunderbuss filtering, but has he any grasp of the enormity of what he’s asking? Is Cameron not reflecting most parents’ attitudes? They sort of wave a vague hand in the direction of the internet and expect it to bend to their will with no real understanding of how it works. There is a frightening naivety arising simply from a generational lack of tech education.

      The TalkTalk/Huawei connection is interesting and I know there’s been much hysteria over ‘The Chinese Connection’ and how it’s the slippery slope to state monitoring. As far as I understand it, the Government isn’t insisting ISPs use the Huawei filter model. As a guy with tech knowledge, Brennig, do you think it will ever be possible to develop a filter that could weed out the internet’s worst excesses? Is that even desirable?

      Great comment, cheers!


      • Censorship, right or wrong? Where does telling people what they can do start – and will it ever end in a good, or Just place?

        There are internet services that offer paid anonymity; closed to search engines, they exist on private networks. They can never be stamped out – if we choose to adopt the concept that state censorship is a good thing.

        But where does parental responsibility kick in? As Mr Cameron’s oft-stated motivation here, is the protection of children, shouldn’t we be looking for the finely-honed interventionist tool of parental oversight, and not the blunt-edged tool of state-sponsored censorship?

  2. If I thought for the briefest instant that Theresa May… Ummm… I mean, David Cameron’s filter thing had the least to do with stopping the tide of filth threatening to drown children whose parents can’t be bothered using the parental filters already out there, I’d… Well… I’d still oppose it. The vague terms the filter is going to use are so cunningly ill-defined that they could be abused by any Home Secretary ‘smart’ enough to, for example, get the dopey US to do her spying for her while trying to drive through a ‘snooper’s charter’ that would make legal everything she was already doing anyway.

    Or, if you prefer a less tin-foil hat explanation; bog off Cameron, and stop playing to the vapid Daily Hate Mail readers, or ‘UKIP voters’ to use the more correct phrase.

    • Hi Iain, thanks for your comment.

      Oh, what cynics we have all become! I’d really REALLY like to think that there is a grain of good intention behind this move. Is there a ‘right’ to pornography in the grand scheme of things?

      Cameron knows he has to get the female vote if he’s to stand any chance of winning the next election, and this moves seems an obvious one. Overwhelmingly the voices heard in favour of some sort of filter are from women. Arguments against filtering are overwhelmingly from men. I’ve been trawling through sites researching the issue and the comments in response to pro-filter points of view are angry, hostile and, yes, sexist. If we could take porn out of the discussion about filtering, I can’t help but think there would be a more meaningful dialogue. But then we wouldn’t be having this debate at all.

      I don’t agree with filtering for the reason set out in the post. At the moment they lack sophistication, block legitimate sites and are easily side-stepped by the porn industry/your local tech-savvy paedophile. Both you and Brennig have tech knowledge; for you finding your way around a computer is as easy as breathing. But what do you think should be done for those parents who don’t have your skill or knowledge? Are they all lazy and feckless, preferring to sit on their couch smoking and drinking Diamond White rather than check that their kids are safe on-line? Is that an entirely fair finger to point at a generation who was brought up with Etch-a-Sketch?

      Chastity x

      • I wouldn’t necessarily know how to get around the filter, but I know people who could. Of course, for now at least, the simplest way around it is to opt out (while we have the chance). My issue remains with the other things Cameron has sneaked in there. ‘Esoteric’ content? Meaning, what? Religion? Philosophy? They really want to start censoring those?! That path leads very quickly to censoring political expression, starting with ‘extremists’ and very rapidly on from there.

        Banning is never as effective as education, but education requires will, planning, money, and competence. The plan to ban shows the coalition lack that last quality, as ever. The ban also plays well to the gallery. I’m only surprised there hasn’t been some reference to immigration shoe-horned in there just to stick the boot in to UKIP.

        Sadly, C, any debate on t’ Internet is poisoned by mysoginistic shouty goits, this one more than most. It’s the noise that has to be filtered to get to the core of the issue; choice and responsibility. The Tories always claim to want no Big Government, except when there are votes to be won in banning minority things. Same with promoting personal responsibility. That’s fine, so long as your responsible in the way they want you to be. You can make any life choice you want, so long as it’s from the approved list. Sadly, all the other political parties are equally as bad, leading us back around to the oft-held discussion of who these self-serving, corporate stooges in Westminster actually represent.

        Getting back to the original point, I have friends who could show me how to get around the filter. If it’s allowed, there will eventually come a time when it is made compulsory. Even before that happens, will the government (whoever they are) allow people to openly discuss working their way around the censorship? Or will the places where those conversations take place start to be themselves censored? Of course they will. The conversation won’t be stopped, but the whole site will be. One after another.

        Another issue. Adult entertainment is a mainstream thing and, like all mainstream things, it has ugly, dark, exploitative corners. I follow and chat on Twitter with a few folks who work in the industry, and one who is a sex worker. Fascinating, wonderful, passionate people, as uniquely broken-yet-functional as any of us are. The puritanical, vote-chasing assault by government here and (particularly) in the US is driving the organised, visible, responsible industry out of business. Good, you might think. Well, no. Not really. You see, that’s making it easier for the dangerous exploiters to do what they do. Those cockroaches need the darkness. They operate on the other side of the law anyway, and are unaffected by legislation. For the criminals, business is booming. That harms us all.

  3. Hi

    It’ll be no different to what it has always been. If you are rich and went to Eton (other lesser public schools are available) it is erotic art! If you’re poor and were minced through a comprehensive, it’s porn.

    The rich get all the pleasure and the poor wot gets the blame!

    Like most stuff which governments try, in fact almost all stuff, it’ll not work. Try being involved with animal rescue and not using the word ‘bitch’, which is blocked or ‘cocker’ as in spaniel. Now as the Gaurdian readers would have it a four legged large eared (sorry, no that is earist and banned) panting animal. (no sorry heavy panting banned too.)

    We’ll just let the strays run wild!

    Love the column, you are brilliant!

  4. Thank you so much for honouring me with an entire blog post based on my comment. I am thrilled and humbled. I had a go in the library again today and it is now letting me read you! Have you made representations? I agree with everything you say about Cameron’s latest piece of populist posturing. It is absolutely fatuous and just shows how out of touch he is with the internet – and indeed everything else.

    • Well, Elaine, I am indebted to you for being just so darned on trend! It’s something I aspire to do and yet never quite manage. I haven’t yet made representations, so maybe subscriber wrath has filtered down the shell-like of Northumberland County Libraries and they’ve swiftly thrown a ‘U’.

      Poor Cameron, eh? He can’t do right for doing wrong. This is where all political parties/religions go wrong to a greater and lesser degree. Ideology does not make good policy and should never be attempted.

      Many thanks for dropping by again!

      Chastity x

  5. P.S. Call me obsessive if you will – many people have – but I’ve been testing what exactly is going on with the library filter, and the exact position is this. If I access your blog via the email I get to notify me of a new post, there is no problem. If I try to access it through the usual ‘blogs I’m following’ link, then bingo, the ‘unacceptable’ wall of shame appears. There could be no better illustration of the arbitrary and unworkable nature of internet filters. I am actually a few years older than Cameron (and all the other party leaders, which was rather a shock when I realised it), and consider myself only moderately tech savvy, so if I can understand the problems with what he’s proposing better than him, then porn-hungry teenagers will run rings around any filter. Not to mention their dads. The funniest aspect of the whole plan is Cameron’s idea that it would be good to have the same filters installed on all the computers in the household – that’s the last thing most parents want!

    • Ah, thank you for that, very interesting! I particularly like being placed against the Wall of Shame. It’s not quite the Mile High Club, but the best we can hope for in a library at a time of savage cut backs.

      We’re all agreed, aren’t we? Filters are about as successful as a fishnet condom. What a shame. I love the idea of the sick, shuddery stuff being somehow disappeared. But Iain makes a good point about this sort of thing needing darkness to thrive, and private networks have a nice damp, shadowy feel to them. When my kids were smaller I used the parental filters but it was so frustrating trying to access anything. What can’t be given a porny spin? Hopeless.

      Back to the drawing board, Cameron, parents and technology. Back to the drawing board.


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