Crowdsourcing Column: Is Censorship a Real Danger to Adult Communication?

In the print edition of AVN, writer Stewart Tongue asks online adult industry experts a different burning question every month. In this column he asks, "Is Censorship a Real Danger to Adult Communication?"

Attempts at governmental censorship of adult entertainment are nothing new, but modern technology makes newly proposed methods of restricting content much farther-reaching and more dangerous. Unlike past generations that faced regional prohibitions which were manually enforced, the current censorship schemes utilize filtering software that automatically blocks off entire categories of content in a much more pervasive way on a potentially global scale.

In recent years China has implemented a fierce set of content firewalls intended to prevent their population’s ability to obtain news or entertainment from the outside world. Germany has also enacted archaic rules that restrict some kinds of adult content, and now the United Kingdom is facing a persistent campaign by Prime Minister Cameron to block all adult content unless an adult citizen affirmatively contacts their service provider to opt-in to an unfiltered viewing experience. Coupling the intense desire of some governments to restrict content access with their recently exposed fetish for tracking everything each citizen does paints a dystopian future and seems to suggest the opportunities available to adult businesses may suddenly become far less open than they were just a few years ago.

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of these measures is that nobody seems to believe they will actually prevent illegal content or protect children, which is the thrust of the sales pitch politicians keep using to promote these prohibitions. In a recent interview with the Guardian, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales made the point perfectly. “When Cameron uses the example of pedophiles that are addicted to internet porn—all that these plans would do is require them to opt-in,” Wales said. “It’s an absolutely ridiculous idea that won’t work.”

This skepticism is echoed by many in the adult online industry, who had much to say about whether censorship—either by governments or corporate entities—represents a real danger to adult communication.

“While I applaud the stated goal of banning CP [child pornography] content-related keywords, I don’t believe ISP-level regulation is the right approach in the case of legal content,” says Mickey Bojcsik of “When I hear politicians say that the spread of online adult content is somehow harmful to children and their development, the keywords ‘responsible parenting’ and ‘voluntary parental control tools’ come to mind rather than heavy-handed ISP-level restrictions. If a government can’t trust its own citizens to be responsible parents, what type of message does that send?”

The proposed filters are also destined to be ineffective, as Bojcsik explains, because “Once one of the adults of a household opts in to access adult content, anyone in the household will be able to gain access to the same XXX content using the same connection, circumventing the supposed goal of the initiative entirely.”

Surely, politicians must realize that simple fact already, which begs the question: If they aren’t effectively protecting children, why are they trying so hard to control what the general public can see, read, hear or discuss?

“I’ve always been of the opinion that talk of widespread online content filtering, at least within the context of western democracies, amounts to political posturing,” says Colin Rowntree of “Bagging on pornographers and publicly fretting about the impact of easily available hardcore porn is an easy point-scorer for politicians, but at the end of the day, very little comes of all the talk, especially here in the U.S., where the courts are more or less on our side with respect to censorship of sexually explicit material. However, in places like the U.K. and Germany, where a degree of filtering and access limitation already exists, it’s a much bigger concern, obviously.”

In some respects, even the open threat of enacting censorship filters is as bad as having the actual prohibitions put in place. “I think the U.K. filtering and all the politics that has gone into it has already had an effect on the sites in the U.K.,” says Spike Goldberg of “What is really troubling is that you have to make a call to get unblocked. I never think it’s good to have the government making a list of people doing something. That said, on the business side of things, the users that go through that process will likely be motivated customers looking for product.”

Suggesting a predefined listing of opt-in consumers may actually lead to much better conversion ratios and lower overhead, at the cost of shrinking the overall market and eroding intellectual freedom.

The U.K. regulations can be seen as good and bad, says Erwin de Boer of “It’s bad because it’s basically a way to destroy freedom of speech and regulate the internet, which leads to even more regulation afterwards,” he explains. “On the other hand, it’s good because it will weed out the freeloaders. And if somebody disables their adult filter it means they’re more likely to purchase something. It also seems to make the U.K. government entirely responsible for determining which internet users are over 18 years of age. However, it’s always hard to judge exactly how something like this will play out, and if we compare it to the strict regulations Germany has, we can more or less assume it will have little or no effect at all long term.”

For some site owners, past experience suggests that people are smart enough and motivated enough to circumvent filtering entirely if the product is worthy of their effort. “Filtering and censorship will always be issues for any content provider offering materials that consumers wish to keep private, but our stats show that it isn’t quite as significant an obstacle as some suggest,” says Clement of VideosZ. “China has had a very stringent set of filters in place for years and we still get hundreds of thousands of uniques from supposedly blocked regions regularly. When people want something, they have a way of finding workarounds to get access to it.”

Another interesting correlation comes from the contradictory approach governments are taking when online payment processing and content filtering are put into the same context. “This new law is pretty aggressive against our products, and of course we can’t be happy with that,” says Stefan of “We believe an adult’s choice to watch porn is a human right, and every adult should be able to decide if they like to watch XXX videos or not. Using an opt-in filtering system makes some sense, if they want to allow people to choose to avoid certain kinds of content, but here the U.K. government is seeking to default adult content off. It’s like making a pre-checked preference for no porn.”

After taking an interest in pressuring online businesses and card associations to curtail cross-sales and pre-checked billing options, it does seem ironic that the United Kingdom is taking a pre-checked approach to blocking adult content online.

As with all other censorship campaigns, this one seems to be based mostly on fear. Unfortunately, to drum up enough fear to garner public support, politicians seem willing to completely ignore the line between legal and illegal adult content—treating all erotica as if it were the same. “Censorship of any kind is a basic infringement of civil liberties and media freedom,” says Joshua Stern, CEO of “What bothers me the most is that they keep acting as if illegal content and legal pornography are the same, which does the adult industry a huge injustice. People who make illegal content, whether it’s CP or whatever else, should be punished as harshly as possible. People who make legal adult erotica do so with the understanding that adults have free choice and parents have a responsibility to moderate all content their children view (XXX or otherwise). If parents and kids learn to talk together, this type of censorship wouldn’t get anywhere because we wouldn’t have the same level of fear.”

“What worries me much, much more than the prospect of government censorship is the reality of private, corporate censorship,” says’s Rowntree. “We’re already seeing the results of that all over the place these days—from changes in content policies on platforms like Blogger to new restrictions being put in place on things like Google Glass apps as soon as the first adult Glass app was announced. Even the Huffington Post is now redacting contributing authors’ links to their own sites if they display adult content. The really sad part is that so many consumers seem to think this is all fine and dandy. So long as it is done in the name of ‘protecting the children’—even if the measure does nothing at all to actually protect children—there’s an alarming number of people out there who seem eager to forfeit the free speech rights of others, even as they protest loudly when their own rights are infringed upon.”

In a related news story, the British Library recently offered itself as a great example of what can go wrong when automated filters are put in place. Their own WiFi content filter inadvertently denied all access to an online version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, because it deemed the text of the book to be too violent. “We’ve received feedback from a number of users about sites which were blocked, but shouldn’t have been,” a spokesperson for the British Library told the BBC. “We’re in the process of tweaking the service to unblock these sites.” One can only imagine the long list of websites that will be blocked erroneously by a national opt-in filter of all adult content and the completely subjective process that would be used to determine which should be unblocked or remain blocked on a case-by-case basis.

As for the future of filtering, Spike of sums it up best. “There should be a conversation about how to keep minors from seeing age-appropriate material. However, there are usually two problems that get in the way. Either a government entity tries a ham-handed approach on its own, or they come to the industry and talk to the wrong people, which ends up leading to the creation of a compliance platform that no one is actually interested in adopting.”

This article originally ran in the November 2013 issue of AVN magazine.

Click here to read the June Crowdsourcing column, click here for the July column, click here for the September column and click here for the October column.