Guest Writer for Wake Up World
It’s been called a ‘War on Consciousness’. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has caused outrage by grouping esoteric websites and web forums together with violent material, pornography and pro-suicide sites in his paternalistic plan is to block access to online ‘threats’ from the New Year onwards.
Mr. Cameron’s proposed block on websites that contain information or images that could be ‘harmful to children’ will mean that web users will have to ‘opt-in’ to viewing websites across a range of topics. But while users can ‘opt in’, there are fears that choosing to unblock certain sites will raise a red flag to the authorities, identifying individuals as potential trouble makers. There are also questions about how search engines will handle and display blocked sites, and whether traffic to such sites (like this one!) will therefore be affected.
Here’s a list of topics the government intends to block:
- violent material
- eating disorder websites
- suicide related websites
- tools to unblock websites
- web forums
- esoteric material
Why Mr. Cameron has chosen to group ‘esoteric material’ with violence, pornography and suicide is quite beyond me. I don’t even know why smoking and alcohol are on the list. In fact, I don’t understand why information about any legal activity would be included… unless Mr. Cameron has another motive.
Firstly, what is “esoteric” material?
“Esoteric” is defined by OxfordDictionaries.com as “adjective: intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.”
Now consider the implications of this definition, just as Mr. Cameron considered them in preparation for his proposal to block “esoteric” material. This measure would provide the UK government powers to censor information from or about any individual or group it sees as “special interest”… or in other words, “not mainstream”. In essence, the government is seeking the right to censor new or opposing streams of thought; basically anything that isn’t currently accepted by the majority.
What is at risk from this proposal?
Firstly, it’s a terrifying glimpse of a future in which the government’s stranglehold on our freedom is tighter than ever. The block has been likened to George Orwell’s 1984.
If you have specialized knowledge or a ‘minority’ interest of any kind, you and the “small number of people” who share your minority standing may lose your legal right to share information online about your experiences, thoughts, learnings and practices. And remember, by definition, “esoteric” isn’t limited only to religious or “spiritual” practice; consider whether your right to share information relating to your culture, language, nationality, race, sexuality, gender identity, interests, expertise, research, discoveries, history or political opinions might also be at risk.
Personally, many of my customers and friends are esoteric entrepreneurs who will definitely lose customers and maybe even their businesses if the ban makes it difficult for individuals to view their blogs and websites. I am also a pagan and participate actively in websites that help further my personal development, esoteric knowledge and religious practice. I believe this is my right.
Which of your beliefs, interests or activities may also be at risk?
What will happen if the block is introduced?
- Internet service providers will block sites that the UK government deems unacceptable.
- We will be able to opt out of the filter, but it will be set ‘on’ by default.
- To unblock websites, we will have to contact our ISPs and ask them to do it.
- We’re likely to be denied access to certain websites whilst using Wi-Fi hotspots in public places. (There are reports that this is already happening.)
- Parental control settings will be turned on for all new broadband subscribers “by the end of the year.”
ISP Definition: An ISP is an Internet Service Provider. In the UK, ISPs include: BT, Sky, Virgin, TalkTalk and Plusnet.
Why the hell is this happening?
Who knows, but in light of recent political machinations I’m finding it more and more difficult to ignore ‘conspiracy’ theories and think positively about the future. Luckily, David Cameron is going to block the opinions of conspiracy theorists for me!
Expect the block to cause difficulties for alternative news, spiritual, conspiracy and occult websites, among many others.
I can’t imagine why the government would legitimately want to restrict our access to such information. This move seems to be designed to block our access to alternative thoughts and viewpoints; a move that ultimately gives more substance to the conspiracy theories about the controls imposed by government.
And despite the perceived threat to government this sort of information poses, surely even conspiracy theorists have the right to free speech, and even to be wrong once in a while?
I would also like to point out that part of the text on DavidCameron.com advocates “Christian resistance to amoral politics.”
Will Christian websites also be labelled as ‘esoteric’? I wonder….
Do we really need a paternalistic government?
According to Open Rights Group, “Adult filtering can stop people accessing crucial advice on sexual health, sexuality and relationships.”
Let’s look at the example of “David Cameron vs. My Dad” as it applies to the proposed ban on such critical information.
I remember as a teenager having to ask my parents to lift the parental controls that were preventing me from searching the Encyclopaedia Britannica online for help with my homework. I sent my dad an email that went something like this:
“Hi dad, how are you? Can I change the parental controls on my computer to ‘over 18’ please? I’m not going to look at porn or anything. I want to use the Encyclopaedia to help with my homework and for some reason the Encyclopaedia is blocked. Love, Ellen.”
Unfortunately I had sent it to the wrong Ben Long. Apparently this guy gets a lot of emails that are meant for my dad, because my dad is pretty well-known in his niche.
This is the response I got:
“Hello, I’m not your dad, so I can’t help. By the way, I don’t think you should be joking about porn. It’s a very dangerous thing that can ruin people’s lives.”
My dad knew that I wasn’t making light of pornography, when I eventually sent the email off to the correct address. Amused, he simply lifted the parental controls as I had asked. I was able to use the Encyclopaedia to complete my homework, so no worries there. But I’m still amazed that a complete stranger took it upon himself to lecture me about the contents of a private email that went awry. Naturally I will trust my dad’s judgement on what is appropriate, not the judgement of outsiders who try to assert their ideals on me, especially when it comes to private matters like sexuality or spirituality.
Thank goodness I’m not a teen anymore, or next year I could look forward to some pretty uncomfortable conversations with my parents. In reality, children will probably choose to keep quiet about issues of sexual health, body image and relationships, rather than asking their parents to unblock websites that discuss these topics.
What can you do?
Don’t let your business or your family suffer in the wake of this ‘war on consciousness’. Be vigilant. Assert your right to understand this proposal’s implications. Unfortunately, the UK government has offered no concrete information about what exactly constitutes ‘esoteric’ material and therefore which sites are likely to be blocked… or why.
Entrepreneurs operating in any market know they need to be adaptable; now’s the time to put that knowledge into practice. You may need to publish your content differently in 2014. My advice is to save the information contained in your website elsewhere, such as on your computer hard drive or a storage device. It can be edited offline if necessary.
In the meantime:
- Don’t be complacent – opt out of blocks with your ISP
- Sign the Open Rights Group petition
- Sign the Change.org petition
- Visit facebook.com/esotericmaterialcensorship for more information, and to stay up todate.
- Bookmark your favourite sites and make sure you can access them in future
About the author:
Ellen is just beginning her writing career in earnest, but at 25, she has been a dedicated student of all things spiritual, liberal, alternative and sustainable for more than half her life. Her blog, The Uncommon Writer, is where she writes about her favourite online marketing techniques. A freelance writer and blogger, Ellen writes almost exclusively for business people who want to market their websites holistically. She also edits books and magazine articles.
Visit www.theuncommonwriter.co.uk for more details.