Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by British Naturism

Introduction

As stated by the Committee, the online world poses hazards, ranging from images of child abuse to trolling, that are the converse of the immense benefits of unimpeded communication and free speech provided by the internet, and so any attempt to mitigate harm has to be proportionate and avoid disadvantageous consequences.

British Naturism (BN) is the national organisation that represents naturists in the UK. A full description of Naturism is on BN’s website [1] but, in short, Naturism is the enjoyment of life in every usual way, save that clothes are needed only for physical protection.

Naturism contains, among other things, a clear belief about the universality and acceptability of our one true possession—the human body—and its wholeness.

Our concerns in the debate about Child Safety Online arise when considering topics such as:

Naturists’ use of online methods to maintain and promote naturism.

Prejudice against minority groups (such as naturists) can drown evidence which supports them.

Concerns about body image issues in children.

Safeguarding education in Art, Science, Medical health and Wellbeing, Sex and Relationships.

We deal first with the three issues highlighted by the Committee:

1. Protecting Minors from Adult Content

We agree that minors should be protected from some online content, but qualify this stance as follows:

1.1 Evidence

Any classification of content as “adult” or “inappropriate” must be based on factual evidence, not on emotion, myth or prejudice. The preferences of an ill-informed, perhaps bigoted, minority cannot be allowed to overrule the reasonable attitudes of the majority. For example, some people believe that seeing an image of a naked body is harmful to children, but there is simply no evidence that this is the case. On the contrary, there is much evidence that links prudish attitudes to the body with high levels of eating disorders, body shame and body anxiety in young people.

1.2 Minors

The use of the term “age appropriate” should not be used in legislation without careful definition. Age verification is used, for example, by gambling websites where the possession of a valid credit card forms both the financial security and implicit verification of the person’s right to gamble. But in the general case of free access to unsuitable websites, it is unclear to us what mechanism could be devised that verifies the age of the individual who has made initial access, but does not block the unverifiable access by, say, another family member or friend to whom control of the device is passed.

1.3 Filters

Some filters are centrally defined black lists (eg Google SafeSearch), others depend on white lists (eg TwoTen). Our opinion is that white lists are feasible for protecting the youngest children, black lists have drawbacks:

They are expensive to research and maintain.

They cannot ever be completely effective.

They risk blocking material that is not harmful, and obscuring the fact that blocking is happening.

It may be very difficult and expensive to challenge unnecessary blocking.

1.4 Regulation

Unlike an industry centred on physical media (films, DVDs, video games) where classification of titles can help the public protect itself from unwanted material, the internet presents a different kind and scale of challenge. By design the internet is constantly growing and changing, so that regulation by any one country is limited to rather crude blocks on major websites (usually those that authorities consider politically destabilising). Satellite mediated mobile telecoms will tend to dissolve national boundaries and render such controls less effective. The suggestion that Ofcom could perform a role like that of the BBFC is clearly infeasible, and the suggestion that Ofcom can set attainable standards for filtering and for age verification is probably not practicable either.

2. Filtering Out Extreme Material (eg Images of Child Abuse, and Information Promoting Terrorism and Violence)

We understand “extreme material” principally to mean content that is already defined as illegal, and we expect that ownership of and access to such content should be prevented by legal means. Organisations such as the Internet Watch Foundation already provide services that identify such dangers, as do investigators in the Police and some charities that have protection in their aims. To the extent that filtering can be made to work, such material should continue to be blocked internationally.

3. Prevent Abusive and Threatening Comments on Social Media

We are concerned about the misuse of social media by irresponsible citizens (both adults and children), but think that individual occurrences of such abuse should be identified by those closest to perpetrators and remedial action taken. Legislation already exists to deal with such obviously anti-social behaviour if it persists and causes harm, and both sanctions and education can follow.

Returning to the topics we listed in the Introduction:

4. Naturists’ Use of Online Methods to Maintain and Promote Naturism

4.1 Blocking

ISPs and MPOs must not be forced or allowed secretly to make inaccessible any website which contains images of the naked human body that are not remotely pornographic.[2] So, for example, the completely legitimate and informative websites that we and other naturists use should never be threatened by over-zealous blocking, especially if there is either no channel for redress or only one entailing expensive litigation.

4.2 Libel

Naturism is a popular, accepted and wholesome lifestyle all over Europe. British naturists should not be forced by legislation into an association with pornography. It would be unacceptable for naturist websites to be subject to filters that may be lifted only by their legitimate users signing up for or opting into a service that, though dubbed “adult”, is considered pornographic by not only service providers but also by other authorities who increasingly try to monitor individuals’ electronic communications. Indeed, such a website and its users could in that circumstance consider that they had been libelled, and initiate legal action.

4.3 Human rights

Freedom of expression protects the interests and images of naturism. There are no restrictions of Art.10 rights due to pressing social need in this context. Indeed, there is a Human Rights ruling which places a positive duty on national governments to protect freedom of expression. The current discussions about legislation give an opportunity to make much more accountable those large corporations that have de facto monopolies over some aspects of modern life. The current campaigns to stop Facebook censoring breast feeding illustrate why this is necessary.

5. Prejudice against Minority Groups (such as Naturists) can Drown Evidence which Supports them

5.1 Largely covered in §1.1 above.

5.2 Blocking or filtering material that not only does no harm to children, but is actually useful or necessary to them, is harmful. Indeed, such blocking would encourage attitudes known to result in widespread and often serious damage. Additional to §1.1, prudish attitudes also exacerbate body knowledge related indicators such as teenage pregnancy.[3]

6. Concerns about Body Image Issues in Children

This subject has seen much discussion in recent years. The overwhelming conclusion is that better education within families and by teachers is needed to mitigate the harmful effects of commercial fashion industry advertising and the concomitant peer pressure experienced by children. BN believes that a proper understanding and acceptance of the human body from an early age provides the best background against which such education can be laid. To risk suppressing this kind of basic information from internet sources would not be helpful.

7. Safeguarding Education in Art, Science, Medical Health and Wellbeing, Sex and Relationships

It must be recognised that it is how bodies are shown that matters, not what is shown. Legislation must take due account of the social and cultural value of material that happens to contains imagery of naked humans. None of the areas listed here is trivial; all may have to refer to the human body as it actually is. Despite the reservations of some minorities, the right to publish and consume such important material is of paramount significance to every new generation in our culture and country.

8. Conclusion

In summary, we look to parenting and education to inform children of the risks inherent in internet use, to established authorities to block illegal content, and to society in general to continue to broaden its tolerance of harmless and potentially valuable attitudes.[4]

Notes

[1] http://www.bn.org.uk/articles.php/_/information/about-naturism/what-is-naturism-r18

[2] Pornography has no universally accepted definition. We take the view that pornography is that sexual material which is in some proven way harmful to society by its influence on adults or children. Thus, accepted sex and health educational material is not pornographic, nor are images of the naked human in Naturist, Artistic, Scientific and Medical contexts.

[3] We observe, in UNICEF research on teenage birth rates in the rich nations, a clear correlation between high such birth rates and prudish attitudes across the countries studied. The correlation is near perfect, the causal mechanisms well understood, and the effects large. http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/repcard3e.pdf

[4] This submission is part of a continuing campaign by BN to help keep Naturism, its ideals and its value to society, legitimate and recognised. We would be more than happy to interact with the Select Committee on any of the above issues and opinions or on related ones.

September 2013

Prepared 18th March 2014