Mobile operator O2 UK has been accused of unfair “sexism and political censorship” after its mobile broadband platform was found to still be blocking over 100 websites that promote equality for men and or which have dedicated themselves to helping male victims of domestic violence and rape.
Admittedly some of the anti-feminist style websites are controversial and might perhaps have no trouble straying over some people’s perception of a red line (site list), which could make a tiny portion of them compatible with O2’s definition of a “hate site” (you can check if a website is blocked on O2 here – http://urlchecker.o2.co.uk/).
But many others are far from deserving of such a classification and could raise questions about the risks from abuse by overzealous internet filtering systems that impose restrictions without a proper review. Not that any of these concerns are new to O2, which is no stranger to such controversy (here).
John Kimble, Male Human Rights Activist, told ISPreview.co.uk:
“My research on this matter and the response I’ve had from O2 suggests they’ve confused feminism with females as a whole, and thus they mistakenly regard any criticism of feminism (a political ideology) as criticism of women. No other ideology gets the same immunity from criticism that O2 give feminism and the likes of capitalism, socialism, communism etc. are all (quite rightly) fair game for critique.
It’s also worth noting that highly contentious feminist sites are not blocked, for example http://femitheist******.blogspot.com promotes castration of all males. Even mainstream and popular feminist sites such as Jezebel.com are at least as controversial as any on the list.”
O2 counters that all mobile operators in the United Kingdom are “using the same approach” and they claim that this is supported by the Independent Mobile Classification Body (IMCB). “The sites listed within the links you’ve sent over have been correctly categorised by us following the IMCB classifications,” said a spokesperson for O2.
Furthermore O2 notes that it is still possible to remove the block but this requires a credit card (not every adult has one of those) and disables all of the censorship measures through an age verification system (https://ageverification.o2.co.uk). A second option also exists that asks the customer to take a photographic ID into one of O2’s store, which could cause some embarrassment.
An O2 Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:
“We respect our customers’ freedom to choose the material that they access. But at the same time, we want to protect young people from seeing things they shouldn’t. So our approach is to protect our younger customers and apply a default block that restricts access to adult content, but that can easily be removed by customers who are over the age of 18.”
It’s sometimes been suggested that if we applied the same censorship logic as O2 and IMCB in the real-world then anybody under the age of 18 might never be allowed to leave the home. After all, “adult” themes pervade almost every facet of modern life.
High street shops display posters or mannequins of men and women in their underwear, violence on TV soaps (even in some cartoons), swearing in public places, spitting on the street, people smoking and drinking alcohol are just a few of the many adult themes that our children can be exposed to on an often daily basis. Not to mention problems that can occur in the home itself.
Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Right Group, added:
“ORG has catalogued this problem for over 18 months. This is a deliberate decision by mobile companies, who are judging that such sites pose a danger to people under 18. Unlike pornographic sites, children over 16 have a right to access sites offering opinions and comment that are sometimes extreme but never illegal. These young people will shortly have to vote. Mobile companies are in dangerous territory when they restrict material on political grounds to people who are legally able to get a job, live on their own, get married and have children.
Of course many adults will also find it highly inconvenient to switch filtering off, as it can require going into a shop with photo ID, or entering credit card details into a tiny phone screen. What this incident shows is that default filtering options will never work without harming website publishers and young adults. Customers really need to be asked before filtering is imposed.”
Ultimately education is a far better weapon than the blunt approach of broad censorship. It’s one thing to block hard-core porn and extreme violence from the gaze of young eyes, even though those same eyes probably know how to circumvent such restrictions, but censoring anything even remotely “adult” in nature may be pushing the boat out too far.
Sadly websites currently have no support mechanisms, other than through an expensive court process, with which to challenge potentially unlawful censorship of internet content. Conversely it seems to have become increasingly easy for copyright holders and other organisations to block sites that they take a dislike too.
In an ideal world mobile companies wouldn’t switch on filtering by default but could instead think about asking their customers first. The only problem with this is that personal payg mobile phones are more accessible to children than fixed line internet subscriptions.