Darby Bailey was tucking her five-year-old nephew into bed in May 2020 when she noticed an iPad he had been using was still on. As she was closing apps on the device, she was shocked to find that, although her nephew could barely read, he had somehow managed to open Safari and land on Pornhub!
Thankfully, as a result of action by the Utah state legislature in April 2020, the little boy saw only an intimidating warning label in orange and black rather than the hardcore pornography with which Pornhub is rife.
Bailey was grateful that her smart and curious nephew was halted by the online warning label that Utah now requires sites to place in front of users to confirm they are at least 18 years old and to agree that the porn will not be shared with anyone under the age of 18. Though this step can be bypassed with a simple check in a box, which is hardly prohibitive to older children, thankfully this youngster went no further.
A media coordinator at University of Utah, Bailey went on Twitter to post her story and thank the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) for supporting the legislation that made this save possible.
“Open Internet systems should have more layers of filtering for kids,” Bailey told me via phone from Salt Lake City, Utah.
She remembers that as a college radio DJ, talking to an audience of over 10,000 people, she was required to have a license “because communication is power.” Yet, the massively influential Internet is awash in dangerous material—including obscene pornography which has been proven to damage developing minds.
Irrefutable evidence of the public health hazards inherent in exposure to pornography, especially while the young mind is still developing, has motivated 16 state legislatures to adopt resolutions declaring pornography a public health crisis. Utah was the first state in the nation to adopt this type of resolution in 2016.
Now Utah is again blazing an important new path with an innovative state mandate that requires porn platforms to post a warning label in front of content on their sites.
Rep. Brady Brammer sponsored House Bill 243, the “Warning Labels Amendment,” which allows the Attorney General or any Utah citizen to sue anyone distributing pornography, including online distributors, for not including a warning about how the material can negatively impact and damage minors.
Here is an example of what the full online warning label looks like:
Pornography distributors that ignore the requirement can be fined $2,500 per violation.
Opponents argued the initiative was unconstitutional but Brammer was undeterred and the bill was approved by the Utah House of Representatives in February 2020, then by the Senate a month later. In the Senate, requirements for the warning label were simplified.
“Simply put, adult content is not intended for minors,” explained Rep. Brammer. “My hope is that both parents and children take it seriously and click away when they see the warning.”
Even the lead sponsor was surprised to see how quickly the online pornography providers complied with the new law.
“I was thrilled to hear that Utah’s Obscenity Warning has already been placed on several of the adult websites,” Brammer told NCOSE recently.
So are we.
It’s a simple solution that allows a pause—a reflection on the fact that some doors just should not be opened.
It also introduces the idea that producers should be accountable for the harm they cause.
Of course, the fact that no form of age verification is required is the unfortunate legacy of disappointing court decisions which were made before easy Internet accessibility—and rampant online obscenity—were facts of life.
Still, NCOSE is happy to congratulate the State of Utah for, once again, applying creativity to the challenge of online child protection when so many other actors choose to ignore the danger entirely.