N.Y. Times Op-Ed: Don't Filter Porn, Make It Better

Aug 20, 2013 8:15 AM PST

NEW YORK — An Oxford University fellow has written a New York Times Op-Ed column saying that trying to make the Internet “family friendly” by censoring adult content is an assault on free speech, and society should instead try and improve online porn.

Anders Sandberg, James Martin research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford, pointed out that people become upset over online porn because of cultural taboos, religion and moral concerns — but censorship is dangerous.

Sandberg's column is part of a special Times' section on whether Internet filtering and free speech can co-exist.

“By nature, it [censorship] involves centralized surveillance of what information people exchange and the ability to block it,” Sandberg wrote.

The fellow noted that filtering restrictions could block and stigmatize legitimate content, let some porn leak through anyway, and some users might not be able to get off of filters’ blacklists.

Instead, the academic said, because people will always have a strong desire to see or create porn, “authentic forms may be open to manipulation.” “As a society, we should aim at turning them virtuous, in a sense," Sandberg said.

He explained that the fact that so much of today’s online porn is user-created, censors should wake up and realize how important a role it plays in society and how much good it can actually do.

But he stressed that with today’s glut of available online porn, most “is like drinking sugar water: there is only sweetness, no other flavor," and that because porn is so ingrained in society it should seek a higher level.

Sandberg said, “Getting people more involved in creating, manipulating and responsibly indulging their own desires might be much healthier for society than trying to channel them all in one direction. That requires talking about them, not just hiding them behind a censor box.”

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