Who’s watching out for our children? I’m not quite sure. Since our children have had access to the internet, we really haven’t done a great job.

However, there is a recent move in the right direction within our state legislature. A bipartisan bill, HF 2895, has been created to require age verification to view or purchase internet pornography. This is small step, but at least legislators are thinking about it.

According to guardchild.com, who has drawn statistics from a number of credible sources, 21 percent of K-2 kids have access to cell phones, 70 percent of children who are seven to eight years old have accidentally encountered online pornography, often through a web search while doing homework, 22 percent of teenage girls say they have posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves online and the largest group of internet porn consumption are children ages 12-17, 90 percent of children ages eight to 16 have seen online pornography, and only 15 percent of parents are “in the know” about their kids’ social networking habits.

I think most of us know that kids seeing pornographic images is a bad thing. But Dr. Sharon Cooper, a forensic pediatrician and faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, accentuates that position and maintains that pornography normalizes sexual harm by portraying a lack of emotional relationship between consensual partners, unprotected sexual contact, and, in some instances, violence and rape.

Legislating the internet isn’t necessarily a popular viewpoint among my Libertarian friends who claim First Amendment rights will be infringed upon, but again, on our own, we’re not doing a great job. And unsurprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes and has fought for an “uncensored Internet as a vast free-speech zone.” If you visit their website, you’ll see that the group “remains vigilant against laws or policies that create new decency restrictions for online content, limit minors’ access to information, or allow the unmasking of anonymous speakers without careful court scrutiny.”

This is concerning to me and seems a contradiction to our past practices regarding the media.

We have effectively monitored media from inappropriate content until the internet came along. We don’t allow inappropriate content on TV or radio or in the newspapers.

But our kids don’t watch TV. That’s not how they get their media. They’re on Snapchat, Instagram or surfing the web–where there are no safeguards for their innocent minds other than what the app decides they can and can’t see. The content on Snapchat and Instagram is often questionable and, in my opinion, geared to indoctrinate young minds to very liberal causes as well.

One might argue that monitoring online content should be left up to the parents. But as parents, we are at a disadvantage not having grown up in the online era. Even the best, most astute parents have trouble with this. Kids most often know way more than we do about technology and also often know how to get around control measures we try to put in place. Or they might encounter it at a friend’s house or somewhere with free wifi access if they have a device available.

The bill’s language, which was introduced in May of 2019, states: “bill for an act relating to commerce; requiring age verification to view pornography online; proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 325F.”

The bill language goes on to say a provider of online pornographic material that makes available pornographic material to persons in Minnesota on a commercial basis must verify the age of the individual viewing or purchasing pornographic material, and the provider of pornographic material on the internet must ensure that the material on their website is not accessible to anyone under the age of 18 and must use age verification software and other identity verification consistent with industry best practices. The bill also calls for a $10,000 fine for violations.

We don’t know the logistics of how this would work and certainly know that kids can lie about their age, but we will have to trust legislators to work out the details. I do believe this is a step in the right direction.

The bill can be found at https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/text.php?number=HF2895&version=0&session=ls91&session_year=2019&session_number=0.

Other resources:

https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_interest/child_law/resources/child_law_practiceonline/child_law_practice/vol-33/may-2014/how-pornography-harms-children--the-advocate-s-role/

https://www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/internet-speech

http://www.guardchild.com/statistics/

https://www.esafety.gov.au/parents/big-issues/online-pornography

Traci LeBrun is the editor of the Messenger.

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