Last month, as protests engulfed North Carolina after passage of a bill requiring transgender people to use bathrooms correlating with their birth gender, one of the world’s most popular porn websites inadvertently gave a Utah lawmaker an epiphany.
The site started a boycott of North Carolina in reaction to the law. Anyone identified as having an IP address within its boundaries got nothing but a
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blank screen when they tried to call up the site.
Utah Sen. Todd Weiler, who, as I’ve noted before, is passionate about curbing easy access to a porn industry that often enters homes without knocking, heard bells.
“I thought, ‘Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!’” he told me Tuesday. “This is possible.”
If a porn site could specifically block access to everyone in a particular state, Utah could get service providers to block access to porn sites within its boundaries.
That had been one of Weiler’s ideas all along. Three years ago, Britain began requiring all Internet providers to automatically block pornography sites unless the user specifically opted in. But when we last talked in April, Weiler said Utah, alas, could do little alone to make this happen because it was only one state among 50. He was hoping for an act of Congress, which put him in a long, stagnant line of other people hoping for various acts of Congress.
Now he is planning to sponsor bills that would go after pornography in Utah a little harder, perhaps requiring Internet providers to require people to opt in, or perhaps establishing some sort of low-cost statewide filter anyone easily could acquire. Weiler hopes soon to begin a roundtable discussion with computer experts and others to figure out the best strategy.
It’s a rare ray of hope in the fight against a seemingly unassailable foe.
Pornography, an industry with estimated revenues of about $100 billion worldwide, (as New Mexico State professor Kassia Wosick told NBC last year), assaults people through social media, emails and Google searches, even if they aren’t looking for it. It takes advantage of every new twist in technology, moving from the computer screen to the smart phone, and now eyeing a profitable future in virtual reality.
A recent Time magazine piece said one porn site claims people worldwide spent 4,392,486,580 hours watching the stuff last year, which is more than twice as long as humans are believed to have roamed the earth.
Its greatest defense may be its sheer size, as well as the endless boundaries of the Internet. Even people who are repulsed by it and angry at its impudence often shrug their shoulders and say it’s impossible to stop.
Weiler views this attitude differently now. “I think it’s almost laughable,” he said. “People attack me saying it’s impossible. A country of 60 million people has already done it. Clearly it can be done. England has done it since 2013.”
That doesn’t mean it would be easy. Nor does it mean it would be perfect. Weiler acknowledges some legitimate sites might be blocked if the state requires providers to filter content.
A state-sponsored freeware or shareware filter, on the other hand, could attract like-minded people, including private businesses, to create their own add-ons.
The state also might require the makers of mobile devices to include filters users would have to physically disable in order to access certain sites. For this, Utah would need several other states to join forces. Utah is sufficiently small that device-makers might simply stop selling here if it was the lone state with such a requirement.
But even then, many phones children use are older hand-me-downs from parents or other family members. It would take years for such a requirement to reach most of the market.
Weiler, a divorce attorney who has seen pornography destroy many marriages, says he’s ready for the attacks and exaggerated scare tactics that come as he studies ways to help families protect themselves. He should be by now.
“I’m not going to do anything to ban pornography for adults,” he said. “I’m not that stupid.
“What I’m trying to do is prevent 11-year-old boys from accessing hard core videos.”
That’s a goal one would think everyone could get behind.