Commonly known as ‘the porn block’, SCREENSHOT first reported on the age-verification law for commercial porn sites back in 2019, after it was passed as part of the 2017 Digital Economy Act and was initially expected to be in place by April 2018. Fast forward to 2022, and the porn law plans are still in motion, with new layers being added to it as we speak.
The proposed law will see individual British internet users required to hand over a form of identification—such as a passport, driving licence or credit card—to an age verification provider, which would then tell a website hosting porn that the user is over 18. At first, it only seemed to impact pornographic websites. But as most internet users know by now, NSFW content can also easily be found on Reddit and Twitter, where users don’t have to go through any thorough age verification.
The two platforms are among the few remaining mainstream social networks that continue to host large quantities of explicit adult material, which explains why Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr have managed to slip through the cracks so far. Facebook and Instagram already have strict bans on pornography, while Tumblr removed all adult material from its service in 2018.
Ministers said that social networks “where a considerable quantity of pornographic material is accessible” will have to conform to the same age verification rules as other commercial pornography websites. Outlets that fail to prove they have robust age checks could be fined 10 per cent of their global revenue by the media regulator Ofcom or risk being blocked altogether by British internet service providers.
Following that thought, The Guardian theorised how such a move could “leave Twitter and Reddit facing a choice of either verifying which British users are over 18 or finding a way to remove adult material from their services in the UK.”
The cost of age verification would be about 15 to 20p a person for websites, which could impact smaller platforms negatively. Furthermore, building trust with users about how their data is handled would be key to ensuring widespread adoption.
So, what do you say Reddit and Twitter? It looks like the ban is finally going to be put in place. Will you follow in Facebook and Tumblr’s footsteps or will you implement the age verification system to gatekeep explicit content?
Watching porn online will never be the same, at least in the U.K. Now known as ‘the porn block’, the age-verification law for commercial porn sites was passed as part of the 2017 Digital Economy Act and was initially expected to be in place by April 2018. But because of its controversial nature, many delays stopped it from being put into action. Although a precise date hasn’t been set out just yet, the Minister for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Margot James, told MPs, “We expect it to be in force by Easter of next year”.
While we wait for a commencement date, there is a necessity to question what this ‘block’ law will actually change and weigh the pros and cons. The problem not only lies in the fact that it might change porn and the way it is perceived—because let’s be honest, a lot has to change in the porn industry—but also in what it means about our freedom and our right to privacy. Imagine how many teenagers would give up on expanding their sexual journey through PornHub’s best picks if they had to give out their phone number and email address first, let alone their parents’ credit card details.
This new age-check requirement will apply to any website or online platform that provides pornography. Businesses that refuse to comply will be fined up to £250,000 and regulators will be able to block porn websites if they fail to show that they are denying access to under 18s. While the main idea behind this law makes perfect sense—to protect minors from being exposed to porn at a too young age—many other aspects and repercussions can be criticised.
The practical aspects of the changes that it would bring are the first and most obvious inconveniences. Here are a few ways users will be able to prove their age. The first option, called AgeID, will direct users to a non-pornographic page, where they will be asked to provide personal data—credit card details, phone numbers, and emails—to prove their age.
The second option will expect that users buy age-verification cards that are only valid for 24 hours. These cards will contain a code that will be entered on the page to prove they are over 18. They could cost up to £8 and a trip to your local off license.
Although the two options sound tedious, it should be said that any young child having access to pornographic content is concerning. A study commissioned by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), shows that 53 percent of 11-16-year-olds surveyed have seen sexually explicit content online. With that in mind, it is understandable that people fear children are becoming more and more desensitised to certain things. What happened to parental controls and privacy settings?
Now when looked at from another angle, this law reveals more problems. No matter how much its critics chose to deny it, pornography has a big influence on us as a society. Yes, it reflects misogynistic views, an unrealistic depiction of bodies, stereotypic ideas and so much more. But it also can influence our vision of gender, intimacy and beauty in good ways.
With more and more independent pornographic film producers coming onto the scene, the porn industry is slowly starting to show a more artistic and realistic side. More focus is now put on the diversity of sex and queer, trans, non-Western people. As flawed as pornography can be, it can be used to communicate comprehensive and open-minded sex education, while today’s modern sex education has been restricted in many ways and in many countries.
And then there is the issue of privacy that this law poses. No one wants to give out that kind of private information when landing on a porn website. The company MindGeek—which owns PornHub, YouPorn and others—is already renowned for its multiple data breaches (seven since 2012). This just shows how risky it could be to put your information out there when trying to watch explicit content—especially when MindGeek will be the company operating AgeID.
This law will help the corporate interests of the biggest adult entertainment companies while putting users’ personal information at risk. U.K.’s ‘porn block’ could mean data collection, leaks, and blackmail. Are you willing to take this risk just for a bit of ‘adult content’? As for protecting underaged viewers, if they don’t know how to change their IP address already, they’ll always be able to look at explicit content on social media. In other words, the ‘porn block’ is solving a problem by creating many more—because top-down restrictions aren’t always the right solution.