October 2019 update. The government has announced that the age verification of online pornography will not be implemented.
They said it couldn’t be done, but AV Day approaches as the UK becomes the first country in the world to enforce age verification for online pornography, with a view to turning off pornography for under 18s. What will it mean in reality?
It all started in April 2017, when the Digital Economy Act was passed, and with it the UK government’s plans to restrict access to online pornography. It has taken a while, but it’s about to happen! Although the Online Harms White Paper and consultation process continues, looking at other steps to make the UK “the safest place to be online”, the DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport) has announced that age verification of online pornography will begin on 15 July.
This groundbreaking move is being watched closely around the world and may be copied in other countries, but why is it necessary in the first place? Whilst it is accepted that young people will find a way to access pornography if they are determined to do so, it is harmful for their development to learn about sex from pornography rather than sex education, and can damage them in various ways as they continue through adolescence. Add that to the fact that a lot of the time children and young people are not seeking out pornography but stumble across it or have it sent to them (not sure that’s true? scroll through the graphics below from our research!), and the reasons for the new law become even clearer.
There are all kinds of practicalities around the technology and how you prove your age safely and maintaining data protection and confidentiality. I could tell you more about that as I’ve sat on a policy group looking at the issues, but they are less relevant for schools as they work with under-18s.
The key thing to know is that the law applies to commercial sites only – this means ones where the user pays OR the primary commercial aim of the site is to offer pornography. That means not all porn will be blocked (so certain social media sites which have an enormous amount of porn on them are not yet covered by the law; but watch this space!).
With the advent of RSHE (Relationships, Sex & Health Education) coming soon as a statutory subject, and against the background of the new legislation coming into force and therefore becoming more of a hot topic than it is anyway (lots of schools are already doing great work here), it is worth pointing out the resources out there to support teachers. At LGfL we have put together a one-stop signposting area to multiple resources from a range of organisations – visit pornography.lgfl.net to find lesson plans, advice pages for pupils and parents, guidance from the regulator and much more.
One resource from the page which is particularly worth highlighting is
this ( ↑ ) amazing new package from Childnet called Myth or Reality (part of a full new RSHE toolkit). The pornography part of the kit is truly brilliant, with full lessons and discussion guides, excellent teacher notes and 3 powerful ‘talking head’ videos explaining young people’s experiences with porn. Take a look and get ready for the discussions that could help young people as the issue hits the headlines more and more over the coming months.