E. Jane Dickson: Log on as a teenage boy and see what the fun girls will do to you

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The Independent Online

It wasn't so much a stand against pornography, more an awkward crouch. At a time when David Cameron is doing everything, bar stepping out in full Boden drag, to win back female support for the Conservatives, expectations were riding high on the Government's bid to reclaim the information superhighway as a place "fit for families".

On Monday, Downing St excitedly leaked the news that following Cameron's close consultation with pressure groups, Britain's biggest broadband providers were set to impose a "default setting" porn filter on their services. By Tuesday, the initiative was looking decidedly half-cocked. The ISPs in question – BT, TalkTalk, Virgin and Sky – moved quickly to correct the impression customers would be required to "opt in" for access to porn sites; in fact their agreement extends only to offering "parental control" at point of subscription. Since fewer than 5 per cent of customers switch ISPs in any quarter, the effect is likely to be negligible. The stable door, frankly, is swinging on its hinges. We are already at the stage where every conceivable and, at times, inconceivable coupling can be passed around the playground; you can slap filters on every computer, but the rise of the internet phone has put paid to any meaningful "parental control".

As the mother of a 13-year-old boy, I have an ear to the ground on these matters. As do most of the mums in my circle. A while back our maternal radar (eavesdropping is such an ugly word, no?) picked up on a chat site that was causing some excitement behind the bikesheds. Logging on as "a guy looking for fun girls", I was almost relieved to find the fun restricted to pictures of pouty girls with their thumbs hooked into their knickers – standard Page 3 fare. Anything "harder" required a credit card. For months afterwards, however, my inbox was deluged with messages to the effect that the fun girls were "missing me". I had given no details, but I was assured on a daily basis, that I was one "mighty popular guy" and that named individuals were desperate to know me better. No matter how many times I clicked the "unsubscribe" button, offers kept on coming. It's not hard to see how this plays to the flayed sensitivities of adolescents. It's tantamount to "grooming". A "default" porn blocker would go some way to addressing the problem, but given the revenue generated by such sites, I wouldn't rely on a government wedded to free trade pushing it through.

In the meantime, I guess it's up to me to be that crucial filter between my children and pornography, to keep banging on – through plugged ears and vomity noises (theirs, not mine) – about the necessary distinction between love and commerce. Because parental control – the only kind that's worth a damn – is not an "opt-in" issue.

What can we hope to learn from news that Michael Jackson, at the time of his death, suffered from a horrible toe-fungus? Daily despatches from the trial in Los Angeles of his doctor Conrad Murray have, I feel, reached saturation point. The endless recounting of his last hours – the baby doll, the drugs, his children's sobs – is beyond distasteful. By comparison, Elvis's demise on the toilet seems dignified.

The Jackson story was never going to end well. The destruction of pop's lost boy started long before he came into contact with Murray. Will it benefit his orphans – or us – to believe their father was the victim of an isolated incident of medical negligence? Train-crash addicts, such as Jackson, or Amy Winehouse deserve sympathy and support in their lifetime. Making them martyrs in death is just another way of passing the buck.

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