Yesterday the Daily Mail ran a “please won’t somebody think of the children” article exposing at length and in graphic detail how “Millions of girls using Facebook, Bebo and Myspace are ‘at risk’ from paedophiles and bullies” - complete with pictures cribbed from profiles showing teenage cleavages and pixellated faces, and just enough salacious detail to get their middle-aged readership semi-erect.
This morning, plans to “ban paedophiles from social network sites” are splashed across the papers - apparently convicted child sex offenders will be forced to disclose their email addresses to police, who will then pass the details to websites to block access.
Which is probably the most laughable and unenforceable idea since, oh, the last one.
The first problem is that someone somewhere in the Justice Department’s Division For Thinking Up Daily Heil-Friendly Announcements doesn’t realise that an email address is a bit different to a phone number, and it’s possible for anyone to have any number of them. That’s probably because the person dreaming up these ideas only has one email address themselves, and the thought of having another has never crossed their minds.
[Slight sidetrack for a moment - am I the only person to think that we’re missing a Ministry of Truth to go alongside our shiny new Ministry of Justice?]
The second problem is that none of the sites that are being mentioned are UK-based, so any proposals, however draconian, are completely unenforceable. This will be down to the idea dreamer not actually knowing how the internet actually works.
Of course, now that child abuse is the new witchcraft, the moral panic could come in quite handy. In order to Protect The Children, we’ll pay EDS a squillion pounds a year to erect and maintain the Great Firewall Of Britain to block access to any site that doesn’t agree to abide by our national code of child protection. Then each adult will be issued with a personal email address - based on say, the serial number of their ID card - and it will become a criminal offence to access an email system other than the EDS-run one.
The other possibility is that the person who dreamt up this idea knows exactly how the internet works, but also knows exactly how to craft a proposal to catch the maximum number of column inches without the tedious and potentially expensive detail of actually, say, having to do anything.