Internet Matters’ response to Government Pornography Review

A laptop half-closed in the dark.

Lizzie Reeves from Internet Matters responds call for evidence for the Government Pornography Review.

About this submission

We have focused our response to the Call for Evidence where our data and engagement with families lend greatest insights. This is in response to questions around public attitudes to pornography, where we provide granular detail from our latest data on parents’ and teachers’ attitudes to pornography, and around education resources for both children and parents on the potential harms of viewing pornography (in particular content which depicts or promotes violence towards women and girls).

About our data

Internet Matters conducts an extensive research programme which is designed to provide us with insight into families’ experiences of digital platforms and technologies. To inform our response to this consultation, we are drawing upon our two major data sources on the prevalence and impact of online harms:

  • We conduct a twice-yearly ‘digital tracker survey’ with a nationally representative sample of over 2,000 parents and 1,000 children aged 9-16. In this survey, we ask children and parents about attitudes towards, and children’s exposure to, sexual content and pornography.
  • Our flagship Digital Wellbeing Index is an annual study designed to assess the impact of digital technology on children’s lives – both positive and negative – and the factors which shape children’s outcomes. The study is based on a four-dimensional framework of digital wellbeing (developmental, emotional, physical and social) developed in collaboration with the University of Leicester. Findings are based on a detailed household survey of 1,000 children and their parents.

We also conduct regular deep dive research projects on particular themes, including emerging tech (examples include the metaverse and cryptocurrencies) and thematic issues (examples include vulnerability, online misogyny and image-based abuse).

In 2019 we published deep-dive into the views of parents and caregivers on online pornography and age verification (designed to coincide with the Government’s first move to pass AV laws on pornography sites via the Digital Economies Act).2 While recognising time has passed since this research – not least the periods of Covid lockdown and passage of Online Safety Act – our ongoing research (as described above) shows that there is sustained parental concern in this area.

Key points of this submission

  • Parents are very concerned about their children being exposed to online pornography.
  • Parents of vulnerable children and children who are eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) are particularly concerned.
  • Dads are more concerned than mums about online pornography.
  • Sources of parental concern include impacts on sexual behaviours, attitudes to girls (and women) and impacts on self-esteem and body image.
  • Teachers are also worried about the impacts of children viewing online pornography, but many feel unsure about how to approach teaching on the subject.
  • Wider research finds that children’s experiences of RSHE are – on the whole – negative.
  • Without formalised support (for example, through the Department for Education (DfE), Department for Science, Innovation and Tech (DSIT), and Ofcom), it can be very difficult for parents and teachers to determine the quality and validity of information from available resources.
  • We recommend a greater focus from Government on driving parental controls awareness. The DfE should also conduct a wider review of online safety teaching in schools. Lastly, the DfE should strengthen guidance around teaching online pornography in RSHE.

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