Age Verification: UK government takes aim at social media platforms hosting porn

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uk gov age verification

A plan to force any website that “publish or place” porn content —including social media services— to conduct user age checks is being newly-pushed by the UK government, which claims that existing age restriction laws don’t go far enough by only focusing on dedicated porn sites.

On February 8 2022, the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport proposed a strengthening of the Online Safety Bill. If passed it would force social media sites such as Twitter and Reddit to implement “robust checks” to ensure that users accessing porn from within the UK on those platforms are over the age of 18.

Age verification (AV) could be undertaken by users submitting credit card information or ID such as a passport or driving license, or using a third-party age verification app or system.

Most mainstream social media sites and apps, such as Facebook and Instagram, do not allow porn content on their platforms, but often are overzealous in their application of their rules. For social media platforms that do allow porn, such as Twitter and Reddit, if the bill passes they would be treated like a porn sites such as Pornhub when it comes to age verification.

“A large amount of pornography is available online with little or no protections to ensure that those accessing it are old enough to do so”

The UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

“A large amount of pornography is available online with little or no protections to ensure that those accessing it are old enough to do so. There are widespread concerns this is impacting the way young people understand healthy relationships, sex and consent,” the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport says.

“Any companies which run such a pornography site which is accessible to people in the UK will be subject to the same strict enforcement measures as other in-scope services,” it added.

If the bill passes, social media sites hosting porn would have to make a decision: bear the large costs and logistical faff of implementing robust age verification systems, or to prevent UK users from seeing the porn content.

With credit card and other financial organizations already making it more difficult for banks to work with porn-hosting platforms, continuing to host porn content would become even less financially viable for some platforms. Some in the industry fear that if the plans go ahead, smaller, less-moderated sites would continue to get away with hosting porn without age verification, and ultimately gain users.

The UK’s ruling Conservative party has been mulling implementing age verification for online porn content for years. Efforts beginning in 2015 to introduce laws that would shut down porn sites that didn’t comply with age verification rules were later abandoned.

Of course, these changes might not be entirely welcomed by the UK’s citizens, who have an already established love of watching porn, nor by privacy campaigners that fear the implications of, essentially, creating a ‘porn register’.

The idea is also gaining traction in other countries, such as France, Germany and South Africa.

Read Next: ‘Super committee’ to scrutinize UK government’s controversial Online Safety Bill

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