WE ARE 18 years into this new century. If this century were a person, it would now legally be allowed to vote, to drive, and to engage in sexual activities with other consenting centuries of permissible age. As the century finally becomes ready for adulthood, we need to be giving it some advice. While there are many things about digital rights, responsibilities, and restrictions that it will have to learn, like most teenagers coming of age, I know that the century is not going to listen to me preach, so I am going to grab its attention and talk to it about porn.
Remember, the Internet is all about porn. Ok, so you know that is not true, but your entire future of watching porn and swiping on people you want to watch porn with, depends on the principles of Net Neutrality which is being diminished by private companies that want to profit from your pervert pleasures. Net Neutrality is the principle that ensures that no matter what you are accessing online, as long as you have the physical bandwidth and the infrastructure to access that information, no private company or regulatory body can privilege other people’s access over yours. You are not judged by what you consume and your own perverse and personal access remains unbiased. This is a big deal because it not only allows you to access porn in all your desire, but it also provides a level playing field for new companies, collectives and communities to find equal voice without facing technical discrimination or technological bias.
Second, you will often be told that what you see online is not to be trusted. You definitely need to learn that the world wide web is filled with a variety of information and that you need to make the distinction between porn and real sexual encounters. And while you are doing it, please pay attention to the fact that the same holds true for politics, facts, and information online. Just like porn is not real life, all news is not real news. One sure way of making sure that you can trust the information you consume is by making sure that you validate the sources. Check who is sending the information. Make sure that when you share it, you are sure that what you are sharing is credible. Just like you will not share your nude selfies with your family and friends, make sure you are not sharing untrue information with the circles that trust you. Fact check information before you share, forward, retweet and like posts, train your hands to not be trigger happy.
And third, you should be able to access porn as long as it is a healthy expression of your sexual fantasy. As you go down the smut route, you will encounter many different forms of porn and while they might titillate and stimulate in unexpected ways, please remember that all porn is not the same. There is porn which is between consenting performers and then there is porn that is shot without the knowledge or permission of the people involved in it. The internet of things has started providing surveillance opportunities in invisible ways, and there are people who use spycams on unsuspecting people, making us unwilling participants in their lives. These videos can destroy people’s lives by shaming, harassing and blackmailing them. Imagine what would happen the next time you are whistling to porntubes and somebody captures a video of it and shares it in your social networks. The next time you come across non-consenting porn, step back and report it or flag it as abuse.
This goes for all spaces of the internet. The internet is not a utopian place of forced happiness. It amplifies some of our most dangerous and dark desires and practices. However, the joy of the internet is that it is a self organised space and we need to take responsibility for not just our actions but our collective ethical behaviour online. We do not want the internet to be policed, but we definitely want to step up and be sure that it is not abused against those who do not have the power to fight back.
Welcome to adulthood, 2018. May you mature into your heart’s desires and find safe spaces to do it in. And on the way, take the responsibility of protecting the digital network that is going to define who you are and what you grow up to be in the future.
Nishant Shah is a professor of new media and the co-founder of The Centre for Internet & Society, Bangalore.