There are numerous articles today about how many UK internet service providers have blocked access to a certain Wikipedia article. The article in question is about the “Virgin Killer” album by German heavy metal band The Scorpions and features the image of a (partially obscured) naked young girl.
If I understand it correctly the ISPs have not blocked the site intentionally but automatically use a blacklist that is maintained by the Internet Watch Foundation and the page was added to that list after a member of the public reported it to them. Their investigation found the page contained a “potentially illegal” image.
So is the image that bad? If I’m honest I’m not really offended by it. I wonder if the hang-ups society still have about nakedness are playing a part and people feel they should be offended because if they aren’t, it obviously must make them some sort of pervert. There is the whole art or pornography debate as well.
Regardless of that however, a body of people with no official authority have censored something on the grounds that it’s “potentially illegal”. Even though in the 32 years it’s been about the image has never been found to be illegal, that it’s still available to buy in UK shops and that it’s all over the internet. Have the IWF started blocking all the other sites that show up in a Google image search? I suspect not.
I guess the UK is lucky in some ways, Australia is heading much further down the censorship path. If something is not illegal, should it ever be blocked?
Lastly, I do have to wonder what the person who reported this to the IWF is thinking about now? Are they pleased that they got their way and that a large number of UK internet users have been ‘saved’ from this ‘disgusting’ image? Or is the realization slowly sinking in that their actions have invoked the Streisand Effect and likely brought this to the attention of tens of thousands – if not millions – of people that will now go and see what all the fuss is about.
Update: Apparently the IWF will only act against a website if it’s reported to them by a member of the public (which Amazon has been it seems – I’ll be curious to see what they do with that). It worries me that an organization with this sort of power could potentially be used by someone as their own censoring attack dog. What would happen if I reported every website that came up in a Google image search for this particular album cover for instance?
I also noted with interest that they have four trained staff to look at all the reports they receive, which lasted year hit 35,000. I’ll leave you to figure how many a day that means they have to be passing judgement on….