In Internet Filtering and Adolescent Exposure to Online Sexual Material, two researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute reveal their empirical findings on the efficacy of porn filters -- the online systems that are supposed to stop users from seeing sexual images, videos, and text.
Their conclusion: porn filters don't work.
The research was conducted in advance of the British national porn filter, which will block all porn sites on the internet, except for those that require users to affirmatively identify themselves and prove their age prior to viewing. This system bears a very high cost, both directly (implementing and enforcing the system will cost millions) and indirectly (when the porn sites' databases eventually leak, the world will get a list of every British person's sexual kinks, proclivities, and shames).
The porn filter was masterminded by a Thatcher-era Tory grandee who was arrested for possession of child pornography in the middle of the planning process. It was backed by a technologically illiterate MP who threatened legal action against reporters who revealed how badly secured her own official website was.
The researchers concluded that filters "are ineffective and in most cases [and] were an insignificant factor in whether young people had seen explicit sexual content."
The data in the paper considers nearly 20,000 subjects, and found that the subjects saw the same amount of internet porn regardless of whether their internet connections were filtered.
The researchers also explored the "financial and informational costs" of filtering -- the overblocking of legitimate material, including material related to human sexuality and sexual health.
Early adolescents are spending an increasing amount of time online, and a significant share of caregivers now use Internet filtering tools to shield this population from online sexual material. Despite wide use, the efficacy of filters is poorly understood. In this article, we present two studies: one exploratory analysis of secondary data collected in the European Union (n = 13,176), and one preregistered study focused on British adolescents and caregivers (n = 1,004) to rigorously evaluate their utility. In both studies, caregivers were asked about their use of Internet filtering, and adolescent participants were interviewed about their recent online experiences. Analyses focused on the absolute and relative risks of young people encountering online sexual material and the effectiveness of Internet filters. Results suggested that caregiver's use of Internet filtering had inconsistent and practically insignificant links with young people reports of encountering online sexual material. Our findings underscore the need for randomized controlled trials to determine the extent to which Internet filtering and related technologies support versus thwarts young people online, and if their perceived utility justifies their financial and informational costs.
Internet Filtering and Adolescent Exposure to Online Sexual Material [Andrew K. Przybylski and Victoria Nash/Oxford Internet Institute]
Researchers find that filters don’t prevent porn [John Biggs/Techcrunch]