Saturday, 7 May 2011

Shocking! Mail puts hardcore imagery on its website

Standards are definitely slipping at the Daily Mail. A standard-issue piece of moral panic-mongering on the dangers of internet pornography came illustrated today - on their website at least - by an image of actual porn. I shouldn't really be displaying it on a family blog, but what the hell. We have to be aware what filth these people are peddling, if only to protect our children (for greater detail, click on image). The computer in the picture looks pretty ancient - perhaps more recent images of people watching internet porn are even less tasteful - which makes you wonder what trauma the poor chap forced to pose for it has suffered in the years since.

The article was lifted almost word-for-word from a report in the Telegraph. In the process, however, the Mail's duty churnalist somehow managed to convert the claim of a "causal" link between online erotica and sex crime into a "casual" one, rather reducing the story's impact.

Extreme sexual fantasies are being normalised because of the rise in deviant pornography on the internet, psychologists have warned. Researchers now believe there is a 'casual link' between the rise in explicit images available online and an increase extreme illegal behaviour in real life. According to experts, the internet is allowing like-minded people to share explicit and violent sexual fantasies, therefore making them more acceptable.

But what of the "research"? The Telegraph story (which does at least have a name attached to it, that of science correspondent Richard Alleyne) reveals that it involved a team of psychologists, including Dr Tim Jones, a senior lecturer in cognitive psychology at Worcester University, and "Britain’s leading criminologist" Prof David Wilson, carring out a series of interviews with a single atypical individual, a convicted paedophile "known only as James". It's a strange psychological research project in which researchers outnumber subjects. In any case, it could scarcely have yielded enough evidence to vindicate claims of a "causal link"; the Mail's emendation, deliberate or not, renders the story slightly more accurate. Either way, the story relates to already illegal images of child-abuse rather than online pornography in general - though you wouldn't know it from the headline.

At a time when there's a growing campaign to pre-filter the internet to remove images deemed inappropriate for children we can expect more scare-stories like this one. But where does it come from? Looking at Dr Jones's page on Worcester University's website, it appears that the case-study in question was published in 2008. Other information in the story would seem even older: the Telegraph tells us that

Records show that the Greater Manchester police obscene publications unit seized about a dozen images of child pornography during the whole of 1995. But in 1999 the unit seized 41,000 images and by 2001 so many images were being recovered that they had to stop counting.

So what has happened in the decade since? And did the police really have to "stop counting"? It seems unlikely.

UPDATE: Sometime after lunch, the page was edited to replace "casual" with the intended "causal" in both the headline and the accompanying text. But the hardcore image stayed put! Finally, at 6pm, the image was heavily pixilated; there's now just a pink blob. Lucky I archived the evidence.

Interestingly, this isn't the first time the Mail have used this particular stock picture. It last had an outing on 10th November last year, illustrating a story about a "survey" which came to the conclusion that "one in ten men use the internet to access porn." I think it meant that one in ten men used the internet mainly or exclusively to access porn. On that occasion, the picture was (lightly) pixilated before going live. Probably. (h/t Mailwatch Forum