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Want To Protect Children Online? Target The Porn Distributors

Parents cannot effectively remove technology from their children day to day, so we must target the source of the danger itself.

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As legislators across the country are proving their deep commitment to the well-being of American families and parental rights, we stand at a pivotal moment in confronting a pressing issue — the widespread exposure of our youth to online pornography, often bypassing parental oversight. In the digital age, shielding our children from the pervasive threat of explicit online content has become an urgent concern demanding innovative and effective solutions.

Over the past 20 years, studies have revealed a startling reality: 80 percent of teenagers have been exposed to online pornography. As of 2021, 15 percent of children under the age of 10 are reporting exposure — the problem is only getting worse. Traditional methods like blocking and filtering software have fallen short: According to Internet Matters research, “11% of parents admit they don’t set parental controls as ‘they’re too complicated,’” and, “17% of parents say there’s ‘no point as children can get around them.’” In the end, only 39 percent of parents actually implement filters for their children, and the reliability of filters depends entirely on 100 percent implementation.

This leaves our youth vulnerable to explicit content with profound repercussions on their well-being — ranging from psychological issues to unhealthy sexual behaviors and broader societal harms.

The singular dependency on individual filters stems from Supreme Court rulings in the late ’90s and early 2000s that ultimately determined that the internet was not so pervasive as TV and radio and therefore not subject to the same regulations. Adults’ rights to pornography outweighed the need to implement protections because the burden of government involvement was too restrictive and a disproportionate response to the problem at hand. The idea was that parents should simply protect their kids on their own dime rather than potentially threaten First Amendment rights. 

Here’s the thing: First Amendment rights have never applied to obscenity. And while we might forgive the court for not predicting the future of broadband internet, the fact is it is now much more pervasive than TV and radio. The safety of our children demands action.

In response to this alarming trend, Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., along with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has proudly introduced the Shielding Children’s Retinas from Egregious Exposure on the Net (SCREEN) Act. Congress should adopt this legislative initiative as a testament to its unwavering commitment to ensuring the safety and innocence of America’s youth in the digital era.

The SCREEN Act, with its requirement for robust age-verification technologies, reflects a pragmatic and narrowly tailored solution to a complex problem. Rather than burdening parents with finding the right filters for every device their child might ever use (which would never cover a public device anyway) or making parents hover impossibly over their child’s shoulder during every moment of screen time — and rather than burdening manufacturers with offering a filter for every product, or making browsers undergo extreme restructures — this bill targets the source of the danger itself: porn distributors.

Parents cannot effectively remove technology from their children day to day. Even most homework is now completed on some sort of device, and educational resources are often stored online. With the recent push for internet access on school buses, children’s unfettered and unsupervised access to everything the internet has to provide, predatory and all, is impossible to avoid. 

Contrary to some claims about age-verification legislation, the bill does nothing to censor adult access to such content. There is no infringement on their free speech, even if obscenity were covered by the Constitution. The claim made by these companies that these bills inhibit the creativity of the “actors” is also false, given that they in no way, shape, or form address the actions presented in the content itself.

The only thing this bill does is ensure that pornography platforms perform the same age-verification checks that are already done by alcohol, tobacco, and gambling websites. This should be a slam dunk.

Let’s come together and call on Congress to address the online pandemic of pornography that is directly targeting our children. They deserve to live a childhood unfettered by adult lusts and premature sexualization. The threat is pervasive and dangerous; the solution is simple — the choice demands no hesitation.


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