The 1993 Horror Of Mind-Boggling Filth On Your Computer

A TV news report about X-rated downloads from the 1990s shows that the current hysteria is nothing new.

If you think that the current moral panic about computer porn is a new thing, think again. Back in 1993, the British TV series The Net – an early attempt to cash in on the growing interest in all things Internet – ran a report about the early signs of mass hysteria caused by access to uncontrolled thought and images. Back then, of course, there was no broadband and CD-ROM was still new, expensive and not something that came as standard with most computers, so the availability of computer porn was not exactly widespread and the quality rather poor – a floppy disc might hold a few low-res pictures or some text but you would still be better off with a videotape or a magazine by and large. Back then, bulletin boards were still the main threat to civilisation as we know it. Not that this deterred the people who wanted to create a fuss about “the sordid world of push-button porn”, including MP Ivan Lawrence, who – as the report points out – completely ignored official reports about the non-threat of such material in order to whip up the sort of moral panic that the tabloids love. With the latest panic about violent video (whipped up out of nothing by the idiot judge in the Jamie Bulger murder trial) still fresh in the memory, the press was keen to find something else to demand action on. Moral campaigns always sell copy. This story didn’t really take off at the time – because it became clear early on that it was out of touch with the reality of most people’s home computing experience or even capability – but in decades to come and even as we write now, internet porn (and internet everything-else) has become the constant panic button to be pressed by the establishment media whenever they want to uneven the playing field between them and their upstart online rivals even further.

Of course, everything developed over time. CD-ROM drives became more affordable and magazine cover discs switched from floppy to CD around 1994/5. For a brief period, you could buy imported adult movies and interactive CDs that were openly sold in the UK; that didn’t last long and the discs were, of course, both expensive and close to unwatchable unless viewed on a tiny window. Dial-up internet speeds meant that downloading images was slow and costly – you were literally paying premium rate phone costs per minute and it wasn’t until broadband became widespread that anyone would even consider downloading a movie.

What’s fascinating is how many of the arguments that were being made in 1993 without any sort of evidence (instead referring to ‘perception’ and ‘belief’ as if this is proof in itself rather than mere opinion) to back them up are exactly the same as are being made now. Yet we are constantly told that the dangers of internet porn are a new thing and that the content now is so much worse than it ever was before. This is a standard claim of anti-porn campaigners, possibly because the people reading these stories will have seen porn in the past and might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Telling people that the current stuff is much more violent/extreme/misogynistic/abusive than the content of the past has been a tried-and-trusted way of stoking the fires of moral panic since the 1980s. A cynic might think that it is all hype and panic created to give those who want to control all aspects of our online behaviour an excuse to pass stringent and often unworkable laws to protect us from ourselves. These are, after all, the same arguments that were made (based on dubious stats, bad and biased research and outright lies) about home video, comic books and magazines, salacious novels, indecorous dancing, any form of popular music and whatever else the stuffed-shirts and moral absolutists have wanted to suppress over the decades.

Here is the surprisingly even-handed TV report, which allows the censorial to condemn themselves with their dubious claims.

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