“One man's pornography is another man's theology.”
-- Clive Barker
Iceland weighing ban on Internet pornography
"Iceland could become the first Western country to censor online pornography with the introduction of radical internet filters that would block online content. Critics of the plan fear censorship, citing concerns over who will choose what to filter."
This may sound a bit strange, given that my country has indeed been trying to assume the image of the ultimate sanctuary for free-speech dissidents from around the world in recent times (think about Assange).
Of course, the issue is as controversial as it could possibly be, and both sides of the debate could well make a good case for or against it. I just cannot fathom how come some people's response to the news has been to knee-jerk equate Iceland to countries like Saudi Arabia and North Korea, simply because the majority (and I emphasise: the majority) of the Icelandic society seems rather willing to regulate a certain niche industry that it feels is culturally sensitive, in that it may contribute to certain social ills in very real ways.
Then again, there is the tricky question what exactly would have to be banned and to what an extent, if such a measure were ever to be approved by the government. Would it be hardcore erotica, which one could easily purchase on the Internet, or would it be everything, including softer "genres" (which are readily available throughout the Internet, and most times come for free)? And who would be setting the criteria for all that?
On the other hand, while one might not necessarily agree with this course of action, or like myself would not be entirely comfortable with such an absolutely drastic, one-sided solution to an otherwise very complex issue (and I am sure there are many freedom-of-speech absolutists out there who would vehemently argue against it - which is fair enough), still, one would certainly be able to see the motivation behind such a step. Nowadays, technology, especially computer technology and the Internet, when not being used to learn new stuff or simply for recreational purposes on a limited and regulated basis, could be a real bitch, and could often lead to various addictions, and to the development of unhealthy attitudes to RL relationships between people - a problem that I am sure you would agree is affecting young people in the West particularly much. The digitalisation of sexual relations could also potentially lead children to stumble mentally upon places which, from a societal point of view, could turn out to be disastrous for a young person's development - and I am sure many of us would be instantly able to come up with anecdotal examples for that. And the fact that this access is so difficult to monitor and control by both parents, schools and government officials on an individual basis, does not help tackle the issue very much, either.
There are certainly reasonable arguments to be made on both sides of the debate, but most importantly, I would be eager to remind anyone who would be willing to venture into a more preachy/judgmental mode, that ultimately this is a domestic issue of a sovereign country. The Icelandic society has shown a remarkable openness to these kind of debates, and even if the proposition is ultimately scratched off the chalkboard, the debate will still be there and the issue will remain to stay, demanding some kind of solution.
Because the problem has been taking really alarming proportions in recent years. The truth is that it is not just adults who have unrestricted access to pornographic content - never before in the history of humanity have children been so severely exposed to such vast quantities of it, with such instant access to hardcore sexual imagery. The ongoing revolution in communications is constantly presenting new challenges to the modern societies, much in the way the industrial revolution did in the previous couple of centuries. And, as our world changes, new solutions to the new problems ought to be looked for, otherwise our societies would lag way behind the events, with all the negative consequences that come with that.
So ultimately, would an outright, total ban, be an answer? I really do not know. But on the upside, perhaps it would be good for other societies to look at Iceland as some kind of experiment (yet again!), and see how this would work out in a real-world situation.
All the issues with the unreliable nature of the now existing Internet filters aside, I am sure many people would be willing to advise the parents to take the full responsibility for their kids and just monitor the Internet activity of their little ones, and place filters and safeguards to prevent them from accessing such content (because, as this line of argument goes, it should not be other people's problem that your kids could access porn, nor should other adults be banned from accessing it, and suffer as collateral victims of censorship because of your kids).
Personally though, I think I would be more prone to favouring a compromise solution, like the one that is currently being discussed in the British government, in which there is an automatic block on porn, which the Internet user could switch on and off (or, as is the very popular term goes, "opt in and out" of viewing such content). Granted, such technology always tends to be one step behind the Internet itself, which is developing at exponential rates. But whatever solution is eventually found to be working best in this case, the fact of the matter is that the current situation cannot be allowed to persist for too long.
On the other hand, it has been said that nearly 98% of the Internet is porn - so I can imagine what would happen to the Internet activity in Iceland, should the measure be adopted. Perhaps kids would suddenly find enormous amounts of spare time on their hands (pun unintended), and would be compelled to revert to the old-fashioned outdoor games? Oh... Keep on dreaming. =)
Ps. But then, while we are about kids and access to porn, shouldn't we also dig a bit deeper and address the real big issue as well - namely, kids and violence in popular culture? But I guess this would be a matter for another discussion. Or would it?