Protect Kids Online: Go After Porn Distributors

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As legislators nationwide continue to affirm their dedication to American families and parental rights, we reach a crucial juncture in addressing a significant issue: the extensive exposure of our youth to online pornography, often circumventing parental regulation. In today’s digital era, protecting our children from the rampant threat of explicit online content has become an urgent matter requiring innovative and effective solutions.

Over the past two decades, studies have unveiled a disconcerting reality: 80 percent of teenagers have encountered online pornography. As of 2021, 15 percent of children under the age of 10 have reported exposure, indicating that the problem is worsening. Traditional methods, such as blocking and filtering software, have proven inadequate. According to Internet Matters research, “11% of parents admit they don’t set parental controls as ‘they’re too complicated,’” while “17% of parents say there’s ‘no point as children can get around them.’” Ultimately, only 39 percent of parents actually utilize filters for their children, and the effectiveness of these filters relies solely on full implementation.

This leaves our youth susceptible to explicit content, leading to severe consequences on their well-being, including psychological issues, unhealthy sexual behaviors, and broader societal harms.

This singular reliance on individual filters stems from Supreme Court decisions in the late ’90s and early 2000s that determined the internet was not as pervasive as TV and radio and, thus, not subject to the same regulations. Adults’ rights to access pornography outweighed implementing protective measures, as government intervention was seen as overly restrictive and a disproportionate response. The premise was that parents should assume sole responsibility for protecting their children rather than infringing on First Amendment rights.

However, First Amendment rights have never covered obscenity. While we might forgive the court for not anticipating the future prevalence of broadband internet, the reality is that it has now become much more pervasive than TV and radio. Ensuring our children’s safety demands immediate action.

In response to this troubling trend, Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., along with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has introduced the Shielding Children’s Retinas from Egregious Exposure on the Net (SCREEN) Act. Congress should embrace this legislative initiative to demonstrate its unwavering commitment to safeguarding America’s youth in the digital age.

The SCREEN Act, which mandates robust age-verification technologies, offers a pragmatic and narrowly focused solution to a complex issue. Rather than burdening parents with applying filters for every device their children might use (which would not cover public devices anyway) or requiring constant supervision, and rather than imposing filter requirements on manufacturers or necessitating extreme browser changes, this bill addresses the danger at its source: porn distributors.

Parents cannot effectively eliminate technology from their children’s daily lives. Much of today’s homework is completed on devices, and many educational resources are online. With the recent push for internet access on school buses, avoiding children’s unrestricted and unsupervised access to the internet’s offerings, including predatory content, is impossible.

Contrary to claims against age-verification legislation, the bill does not censor adults’ access to such content. It does not infringe on free speech, even if obscenity were protected by the Constitution. Claims that these bills hinder the creativity of the “actors” are also unfounded, as they do not affect the content itself.

The sole purpose of this bill is to ensure that pornography platforms perform the same age-verification checks already required by alcohol, tobacco, and gambling websites. This should be straightforward.

Let’s unite and urge Congress to tackle the online pornography pandemic that directly targets our children. They deserve a childhood free from adult desires and premature sexualization. The threat is pervasive and dangerous; the solution is simple, and the choice requires no hesitation.

Mary Miller and Jon Schweppe
Mary Miller and Jon Schweppe
Rep. Mary Miller represents Illinois’ 15th congressional district. Jon Schweppe is the policy director for American Principles Project.

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