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Sunday 27 July 2014

Esoteric Censorship

Around this time last year the British government announced Draconian plans to censor the internet. This should have been big news, because censorship has always been one of the clearest indicators that a government is starting to fear its own subjects. Yet apart from a brief flurry of headlines, the mainstream media barely covered the story.

One reason is that the most loudly announced target for censorship was pornography, and no-one wanted to be seen to be “defending porn”. The other reason is that the censorship didn’t involve any new legislation. There were no new laws that made it illegal to view the “censored” material. Instead, the government simply persuaded ISPs to install content-filters that would be switched “on” by default. Users were still at liberty to switch the filters off if they wanted to.

But the government’s target wasn’t just porn – the new initiative also targeted what they described as “esoteric material”. The mainstream media more or less ignored this. Their readers wouldn’t even know what esoteric means, let alone have any desire to access it on the internet. It bothered me, though, because a lot of the material on this blog is “esoteric”. UFOs, conspiracy theories, the occult, alternative religions, paganism, witchcraft ... I’ve covered all that stuff at one time or another.

Needless to say, some of the internet’s fringier forums immediately pounced on what they saw as the government’s hidden agenda. Pornography was just a cover story – what the government really wanted to do was to suppress the Truth. And on said forums, the Truth is synonymous with the esoteric.

Between the silence of the mass media and the hysteria of the fringe forums, the only intelligent analysis of the subject I’ve seen was a piece by Ian Simmons in Fortean Times earlier this year (FT312: “Cameron versus Forteana?”). His common-sense take on the story is that it’s a clumsy attempt to woo middle-class voters by being seen to “protect children from harmful influences”. To the government, “esoteric material” means evil cults and Satan worship (which is pretty much what “witchcraft” meant to their predecessors in the 17th century).

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

“So what?” says Mr Cameron. A filter that is on by default doesn’t negate Article 19, because people can always choose to switch the filter off. Nevertheless, both the crusading supporters of the filter initiative, and its scaremongering opponents, took it for granted that the majority of internet users wouldn’t be clever enough to do that.

But they were wrong. According to a BBC article a few days ago, “New broadband users shun UK porn filters” . People aren’t fools after all – an official report found that “users had overwhelmingly opted-out of the filter”.

And I haven’t noticed a drop in the number of visitors to this site, either.


Ambiorix said...

"And I haven’t noticed a drop in the number of visitors to this site, either."

Good to hear!

TwoHeadedBoy said...

That "Article 19" thing is worrying though... What about Cameron's desires to scrap the Human Rights Declaration?

Andrew May said...

@Ambiorix - Thanks!

@TwoHeadedBoy - Your guess is as good as mine! The Declaration I quoted was a United Nations one, whereas the one they want to scrap is a European one. I imagine they say much the same things, but I don't really know.

Andrew May said...

... I mean I don't really know what effect scrapping the European declaration would have on the UK's standing with respect to the UN declaration.

TwoHeadedBoy said...

Either way, it's a worrying prospect! They've got nine months left till we can kick them out, who knows what madness they'll pull off before then?