DCSIMG

Shut the evil websites that are peddling perversion

John Giacobbi THE Yorkshire Post's campaign, Dark Side of the Web, has been launched in response to the tragic death of a 17-year-old girl who took her own life, having been lured into a vortex of despair by websites openly promoting suicide.

The smiling face of the girl in question, Carina Stephenson from Branton, South Yorkshire, is familiar to many as she was part of ITV's Colony, a reality TV programme set in Australia which recreates the life of the first English settlers 200 years ago. After initially being withdrawn, the show is now being broadcast with the blessing of her family.

Unfortunately, it's all too easy for impressionable teenagers like Carina to get sucked into the parallel reality that some of these extreme websites represent.

Critically, and almost without exception, these suicide sites fail to present a balanced view to people desperate enough to seek them out.

You are not told to speak with your friends and family, you are not advised to seek medical or psychiatric advice, you are not even told to call the Samaritans. Instead, you are given an endless litany of ways that you can kill yourself, going into exhaustive and often gruesome detail.

Would ITV or the BBC be allowed to broadcast programmes like this? Of course not. But this is precisely what is being allowed to happen on the internet, with the vilest images imaginable freely accessible in living rooms up and down the country by anyone who cares to look, including your children.

Television is regulated, newspapers are regulated, even the radio is regulated, but the internet - the most powerful medium the world has ever known - is effectively a free-for-all where anything goes.

Sadly, so-called "assisted death" sites are just the tip of the iceberg. There are literally thousands of websites dedicated to the most extreme and violent forms of pornography.

We're not talking about what used to be called "hard porn", in other words explicit sex between consenting adults, but instead, sites dedicated to rape, paedophilia, necrophilia and bestiality.

When children were growing-up in the 1970s, about the worst thing they could do was to look up rude words in the dictionary or take a peek at a Mayfair magazine bought by an implausibly tall friend.

These days, however, their minds are open to be corrupted by images that I wouldn't even be allowed to describe here.

Little surprise, then, that, after years of this de-sensitivisation process, some of them grow up to be perverted killers, such as the murderer of school teacher Jane Longhurst who died at the hands of a man living out the sexual-asphyxiation fantasies he acquired courtesy of the internet.

How can all this be allowed to happen, you may ask. Well, the crux of the problem centres around the internet service providers (or ISPs, as they're known in the trade).

These companies are paid to host websites on the internet and, via a long chain of telecom companies such as BT, enable sites that they host to be accessed on computers around the world.

Crucially, however, ISPs are not being held responsible for monitoring the content of the sites that they host. Instead, they are all too often happy to take hosting fees from websites and to turn a blind eye to their content.

A good example of this is offered by a couple of real cases in which my company, Web Sheriff, closed down two particularly disgusting sites.

In the first case we managed to close down the horrific site at the centre of the Jane Longhurst murder trial and in the second case we also closed down a site dedicated to showing the beheading of Western hostages in Iraq.

Now you would have thought that the site-names - HangingBitches.com and HeadlessAmerican.com - would leave little room for doubt as to what they contained.

Yet, when we approached the ISPs concerned, they professed not to know what was on these sites. It was only after we brought tremendous pressure to bear on the individuals concerned that they finally relented and closed them down.

In the face of such gross indifference, the Government must act to impose obligations on these ISPs from above.

European Union governments must jointly agree to make European ISPs responsible for screening the content of the sites that they are paid to host, with fines and, in extreme cases, imprisonment for those who disregard the rules.

This solution would have the effect of cleaning up the internet virtually overnight as, when faced with the alternative of earning 100-a-year for hosting some dubious site or the prospect of a 10,000 fine, all ISPs would simply refuse to host the site concerned: deny this access and the site is neutralised.

We live in an era when the EU governs almost every aspect of our daily lives, from the shape of the bananas we eat to the style of our driving licences and passports, and yet, when it comes to the internet, EU governments display a reckless indifference that can endanger our lives.

If you think I'm being alarmist, just ask Carina's family - or Jane's.

A few days ago, I appeared on ITV's This Morning programme alongside Carina's mother, Liz,whose composed and articulate plea for action cannot, surely, fall on deaf ears.

Indeed, she and those who support her intend to apply pressure on the Government to lobby for EU regulations to regulate the internet in general and European ISPs in particular.

It is important that she gets as much backing as possible to ensure that Carina's unnecessary death hasn't been in vain.

John Giacobbi is managing director of internet policing specialist Web Sheriff and its parent company, Entertainment Law Associates. Web Sheriff is one of the world's leading internet policing companies and takes down illegal websites daily as part of its work for record companies, film companies and the media.

 
 
 

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