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Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Censored in York

I meant to post about this sooner, but it slipped through the cracks for which I apologise; fortunately a tweet this morning reminded me of it. A little over a month ago, SadButMadLad (SBML) advised me that York Council had blacklisted and banned this site on its free public wi-fi near Guild Hall in York Centre.  He also sent this image as proof:

Since I am not one to leap to conclusions, I asked him to check to see if any other pro-tobacco blogs had been banned, along with any tobacco company web sites. SBML obliged and duly reported a day later that only my site had been blocked.  In his words:
Well I tried a number of blog links from Dick Puddlecote's and other than yours found no problems. I didn't check 100% as the signal strength was very low and kept dropping out but I checked the most obvious ones. I also checked a number of Philip Morris' sites and could access them without problem. I could get through to Tim Worstall's which I can't normally via my smartphone ([provider redacted]) unless I give age verification.

So, based on his checks, I suppose we can safely assume that "tobacco" is not the likely reason for the ban.  I should point out here that a) I have not yet asked York Council why my blog is banned or if they would unblock it upon request, and b) I strongly suspect that my site is auto-blocked by their child-protection software, perhaps due to language.  I do use very bad words sometimes. But then so do others. Again, looking at the image that SBML sent to me, it shows the reason as "Content of type: Pornography blocked - Content Filtering."  My site is certainly not porn, not even for smoking fetishists.  So, does the word "cunt" automatically equal pornography these days?  Or perhaps these words are flagged:  fuck, motherfucker, pussy, slag, bitch, hooker, whore, porn, tranny, gay, lesbian, bisexual, cocksucker, blowjob, cum, MILF, wank, wanker, etc., etc.  They are only words -- I don't find any of the words particularly dangerous or harmful. Do you?

It is odd that my blog had only been active for almost two weeks when it found itself blocked on York Council's wi-fi.  This seems awfully quick to me -- how often is their blacklist updated?  How is it updated?  Who is responsible for updating it?  I don't know.  I've done a very limited search on it, but I can't find anything apart from this in respect of York's library computers (emphasis added):

As you browse the internet at our libraries, you may occasionally find that some webpages have been blocked by our automatic filter.  The aim of this filter is to block illegal or harmful sites - it is not intended to be a barrier to any legitimate internet use.  With any automated system there are some mistakes, and we ask users to let us know if they come across a site which they believe has been blocked in error. 
All right, that seems fair enough - anyone can contact them and let them know a site is blocked incorrectly.  But what, precisely, is a harmful site?  How is that defined?  Who defines it?  Do the words listed above count as harmful? 

I suppose York Council does not want to be sued for providing access to porn or other "harmful content." There is the larger issue of unbridled censorship at play.  It is this idea that children need to be protected from "harmful content."  This is the same argument that plain packs supporters use -- children are harmed by graphics on a cigarette pack.  It's complete fucking bullshit.  All we have done is created a culture of fear, which leads to absurdities like this story.  Parents need to take back their responsibility for protecting their own children. The Nanny State cannot do it without destroying everyone's civil liberties, and it is harming your kids in a far greater measure than any creepy paedo could, or some random web site that uses bad words.  Censorship protects no one except for those who would seek to keep the truth from you. For a truly free society, we need to have it all out there for debate (and no, I'm not at all suggesting that kiddy porn is acceptable and should be out there -- there are always some limits to freedom, and no sane person would ever support sexually abusing young children), and parents need to monitor their own kids.

Right. So if you are out and about and accessing public wi-fi anywhere, and you discover that my site or someone else's is blocked, send them a message asking for it to be unblocked.  Do also feel free to let me know, copy me in, or tell me separately.  Perhaps I'll compile of list of "nannying fussbuckets" as SBML likes to call them.