We Have Some Bad News For You About Porn

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Internet filtering tools, like parental controls, are largely unsuccessful in preventing young people from watching porn online, according to new research from the Oxford Internet Institute. Researchers believe understanding how effective these online tools are can help us determine how content is shared and how useful it is in communication.

"It's important to consider the efficacy of Internet filtering," said Dr Victoria Nash, co-author of the new study, in a statement. "Internet filtering tools are expensive to develop and maintain, and can easily 'underblock' due to the constant development of new ways of sharing content."

It comes after the UK government announced earlier this year they were exploring options to filter and block online porn, joining a handful of countries around the world who censor certain online material. Nash says filtering can “overblock” young people who might be trying to access health and relationship information, leading to concerns about human rights violations.

Published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, the study analyzed self-reported data from nearly 20,000 boys and girls aged 11 to 16 who were asked whether they had looked at porn on their home computers. Almost half of the participants had some sort of filter applied at home, but still saw about the same amount of porn as those who didn't. Furthermore, “filtering tools are ineffective and in most cases were an insignificant factor in whether young people had seen explicit sexual content.”

Interestingly, the researchers found that between 17 and 77 households would need to use filtering tools in order to prevent a single young person from accessing sexual content, and even then a filter “showed no statistically or practically significant protective effects.”

If a kid is going to look at porn, they’re going to find a way around parental controls, which the researchers note are also expensive. This study builds on previous research that suggests resources would be better spent trying to “develop the resilience of teenagers to such experiences.”

"We hope this leads to a re-think in effectiveness targets for new technologies, before they are rolled out to the population," said Nash. "From a policy perspective, we need to focus on evidence-based interventions to protect children. While Internet filtering may seem to be an intuitively good solution, it's disappointing that the evidence does not back that up."

Researchers say further, more experimental evidence is needed in order to determine the value of filters where none exist, and in families of more diverse backgrounds (not just European). Further, there are inherent issues in conclusions drawn from self-reported data, as respondents may not give accurate and truthful information.

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