The government will next week confirm the launch date for a UK-wide age block on online pornography as privacy campaigners continue to raise concerns about how websites and age verification companies will use the data they collect.
The plan for implementing the long-delayed age block, which has been beset by technical difficulties, is expected to be announced alongside the government’s other proposals for tackling online content harmful to children, although it could be several months before the system is fully up and running.
The age block will require commercial pornography sites to show that they are taking sufficient steps to verify their users are over 18, such as by uploading a passport or driving licence or by visiting a newsagent to buy a pass only available to adults. Websites which fail to comply risk substantial fines or having their websites banned by all British internet service providers.
Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, said he remained concerned about the prospect of a major data leak as a result of people handing over their personal identification: “It might lead to people being outed. It could also be you’re a teacher with an unusual sexual preference and your pupils get to know that as a result of a leak. It won’t get you sacked for viewing something legal but it could destroy your reputation.”
“Politicians don’t understand that data about their porn preferences might end up in the hands of journalists or others.”
Killock, whose organisation campaigns against state intervention online, said he was particularly worried about the role played by a single company called MindGeek, which owns the vast majority of major pornography sites such as PornHub, and has founded its own age verification company called AgeID: “The problem is you’re giving all your data to the pornographic equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg: ‘This is what I like, this is who I am, and these are all of the sites I’ve visited’.”
AgeID has previously said it believes there is a market of up to 25 millions Britons for its age verification system, suggesting it believes around half of British adults will want to access online pornography through its service.
Its system will require individuals to create an account with their email and password and then upload a passport or driving licence, which will be verified by a third party. If they do not feel comfortable doing this, they can present themselves in person with appropriate ID at a newsagent to buy a so-called “porn pass” for £4.99 per device, with the owner of the shop verifying the age of the purchaser.
James Clark, the director of communications at AgeID, said its method of storing the login and password of verified users meant that “at no point does AgeID have a database of email addresses”, citing external audits of his company’s processes.
“AgeID does not store any personal data input by users during the age verification process, such as name, address, phone number, date of birth. As we do not collect such data, it cannot be leaked, marketed to, or used in any way.”
He claimed that while AgeID could not be used to link viewing data to an individual’s identity, rival age verification companies “may not be so robust” and could be prone to leaks.
Consistently no-platforming people could have a chilling effect on free speech on university campuses and should not take place, according to government guidance.
While student unions are free to choose whether or not to invite individual speakers, placing blanket bans on groups that hold a particular political view is likely to breach English and Welsh free speech laws, according to the guidance released on Saturday.
“Free speech is a value integral to the independence and innovation that embodies the higher education sector in the UK, fuelling academic thought and challenging injustice,” said the universities minister, Chris Skidmore.
The release of the guidance, which was drawn up by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), with help from the National Union of Students, the Home Office and a host of other bodies, comes amid a growing debate over free speech on campuses.
While it makes clear that a student union choosing not to invite a speaker because of their views is permissible, it says they should not ban such people from using their facilities altogether. And universities must not allow student complaints to censor course content. Exceptions are made for speech that breaks the law, including stirring up racial or religious hatred.
It reads: “Any decision about speakers and events should seek to promote and protect the right to freedom of expression.”
The guidance makes clear that people have the right to protest against speakers within the law. But it adds: “Protest should not be allowed to shut down debate or infringe the rights of others.”
QotD: “”(The Vancouver Police Department) will be monitoring and will take appropriate action should conduct breach the Criminal Code”, says a Canadian public library about a feminist speaking about women’s rights”
“(The Vancouver Police Department) will be monitoring and will take appropriate action should conduct breach the Criminal Code”, says a Canadian public library about a feminist speaking about women’s rights.
Today is International Women Human Rights Defenders Day.
Do universities have a broad enough diversity of political opinion? Matthew Flinders, professor of politics at Sheffield University, presents a personal view and asks fellow academics whether the intellectual climate in universities is damagingly constrained by a lack of “viewpoint diversity”.
An essay by a prominent leftwing academic that examines the ethics of socialist revolution has been targeted by a leading university using the government’s counter-terrorism strategy.
Students at the University of Reading have been told to take care when reading an essay by the late Professor Norman Geras, in order to avoid falling foul of Prevent.
Third-year politics undergraduates have been warned not to access it on personal devices, to read it only in a secure setting, and not to leave it lying around where it might be spotted “inadvertently or otherwise, by those who are not prepared to view it”. The alert came after the text was flagged by the university as “sensitive” under the Prevent programme.
The essay, listed as “essential” reading for the university’s Justice and Injustice politics module last year, is titled Our Morals: The Ethics of Revolution. Geras was professor emeritus of government at the University of Manchester until his death in 2013. He rejected terrorism but argued that violence could be justified in the case of grave social injustices.
QotD: “Jenni Murray pulls out of Oxford talk after students try to ‘no platform’ her over ‘transphobic’ comments”
Jenni Murray has pulled out of a talk at Oxford University after LGBTQ+ students claimed that she is “transphobic” and attempted to “no platform” her.
The veteran BBC broadcaster and Women’s Hour presenter was due to speak this Saturday at an Oxford History Society event, as part of their “Powerful British Women in History” series of events.
But on Wednesday Murray told the History Society that she is no longer able to attend the event due to “personal reasons”.
Earlier this week, three student groups wrote a joint letter urging their peers to “publicly condemn” Murray’s views and “if possible, cancel the event”.
The LGBTQ+ campaign and Women’s Campaign, both of which are run by Oxford University’s student union, as well as the LGBTQ Society have all signed the letter.
They say that “inviting publically transphobic speakers to the university, without challenge, further marginalises and unnecessarily compromises the welfare of trans students and staff”.
Students claimed that Murray “explicitly transphobic comments” in a newspaper article last year, in which she argued that trans women who have lived as men “with all the privilege that entails” do not have the experience of growing up female.
The students’ letter contains “trigger warnings” for “Terfs”, which stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, and is generally used as a derogatory term to describe those who believe that “identifying” as a woman is not the same as being born a woman.
Academics working in the field of gender identity have warned that hostility and threats from student activists are affecting their ability to research the possible effects of proposed reforms to the law.
Rosa Freedman, a law professor at Reading University, revealed last week that one student had called her “a transphobic Nazi who should get raped” because of her work on the legal implications of reforms that would make it easier for people to change their gender.
Selina Todd, a history professor at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, said yesterday that she feared a “witch-hunt” would target anyone who dared to challenge proposals to open female-only spaces — such as changing rooms and refuges — to men who identify as women.
Other leading lecturers have called on universities to defend their freedom after protests against academics who signed an open letter two weeks ago complaining they were being “harassed over research into transgender issues”.
Activists have tried to block an event that Freedman is organising on her campus tomorrow on the “legal implications of reforming the Gender Recognition Act” at which the feminist Julie Bindel is scheduled to speak. Bindel has been no-platformed by some student unions.
A Reading University spokesman insisted the event would go ahead and said the university would try to ensure “healthy and respectful debate”.
He added: “We respect the right of our trans staff and students to self-identify their gender and we have a track record of support for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] staff and students.”
Todd has faced demands that she should not be considered for future membership of women’s committees because of her views on preserving women-only spaces. “First of all I was taken aback — now I feel angry,” she said.
“This feels to me like an attack on women’s rights and their right to speak. It feels like the beginning of a witch-hunt. I would like universities to strengthen academic freedom in the face of a few activists trying to stir up trouble.”
A fellow don at Oxford, Michael Biggs, another signatory of the open letter, said he had been “threatened with a formal complaint for transphobia”.
Students at University College London (UCL) complained about Julia Jordan, an English lecturer who also signed the harassment letter, describing her views as “alarming and disappointing”. They warned that their faculty could become a “hostile space” for trans students.
UCL said: “We would like to see respectful and constructive dialogue on the issues raised in relation to the Gender Recognition Act consultation.”
In a recent article for Forbes, “The Vaccination Debacle,” I discussed the frightening rise in the number of European measles cases. The reason for the spike is simple: Fed a daily online diet of nonsense and ideologically motivated activism, many people have come to reject mainstream medical science—including the science behind vaccinations. You’d think that “get vaccinated” would be a relatively straightforward message. But in the days following the article’s publication, I received a good dozen emails from doctors thanking me for writing the piece, and describing how difficult it has become to convince some patients that their local paediatrician isn’t part of an international conspiracy.
But at least the effort to push back against anti-vaccination conspiracy theories is seen as a respectable form of discourse. In other spheres, it’s not so easy to speak common sense.
Consider, for instance, last year’s saga involving Rebecca Tuvel—who was hounded by trans activists and scholars after applying a theoretical application of transgender ideology to the idea of “trans-racialism.” Scandalously, the article in question was edited post facto so as to remove the name “Bruce Jenner”—in response to the claim that these two words served to “dead-name” the person now known as Caitlyn Jenner (despite the fact that Caitlyn Jenner herself repeatedly refers to “Bruce” in interviews). To cite the historically verifiable fact that someone named Bruce Jenner once existed is now seen as a sort of religious heresy. And like all heresies, it must be ritualistically expunged—not because it is factually wrong, but because it is seen as morally wrong.
In August, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island was criticized for removing a news release about a peer-reviewed study published in PLoS One by one of its academics—Lisa Littman, a physician and researcher at Brown’s School of Public Health. Littman’s article, titled “Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports,“ discusses the phenomenon by which social media and peer pressure seem to have fuelled the recently observed trend by which young teenagers (typically girls) suddenly declare themselves transgender. The paper infuriated transgender activists, who claim that the entire notion of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) is a transphobic invention. Both Brown and PLoS One also were attacked as Brown’s enablers.
While no one could offer any evidence that Littman’s results were wrong, PLoS One issued a statement acknowledging the complaints about the study, and promising “further expert assessment on the study’s content and methodology.” Meanwhile, the dean of the School of Public Health, Bess H. Marcus, claimed that concerns over methodology had incited the university to remove the news article from the university’s web site. She added that members of the university community members had “express[ed] concerns that the conclusions of the study could be used to discredit efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate the perspectives of members of the transgender community.” In other words, Marcus is worried that facts might be used to undermine ideologically hallowed “perspectives”—also known as “opinions.”
As former Harvard Medical School dean Jeffrey Flier noted in Quillette, the whole spectacle raises important issues of academic freedom at Brown. But it also symbolizes how severely transgender activism has undermined the efforts of clinicians and researchers who have sought to investigate the issue of gender dysphoria. There is perhaps no other area of human behaviour where ideologically motivated actors have been so successful in creating what are in effect no-go zones for academics, and even for facts themselves.
Another case study may be found in Kenneth Zucker’s work on desistance among children afflicted with gender dysphoria at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Following a lengthy misinformation campaign against Zucker, the transgender lobby was successful in having him fired in 2015, notwithstanding his status as a leading researcher in the field. In that same year, bioethicist and Northwestern University historian Alice Dreger published her book Galileo’s Middle Finger, which analysed the case of Michael Bailey’s The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender Bending and Transsexualism (2003). Bailey’s thoughtcrimes were contained in his review of the work of Canadian-born sexologist Ray Blanchard, who has argued that there are two types of male-to-female transsexualism: one being a deflected form of homosexuality and the other being an expression of a paraphilia known as autogynephilia. In Galileo’s Middle Finger, Dreger concluded that a small group of activists has endeavoured to bury such theories by attacking Bailey. For her troubles, Dreger endured a series of attacks by trans activists (including personal threats), and the filing of ethics charges with her university.
In the UK, there have been similar attempts to shoot the messenger. James Caspian, a psychotherapist specialising in the field of transgender mental health, proposed research on “de-transitioning” as part of his Master’s degree in counselling and psychotherapy at Bath Spa University last year. Initially, Bath Spa had approved Caspian’s proposed course of study, but later rejected it, citing fears of a “backlash” by transgender activists. (Caspian was told that he was “engaging in a potentially politically incorrect piece of research, [which] carries a risk to the university.”)
Another British researcher, cited by The Telegraph, abandoned a Russell Group university for Italy because, as he sees it, British schools are “covering their own arses” by allowing ethics committees to exert control over politically charged research. Last Fall Heather Brunskell-Evans, a Research Fellow at King’s College London, was asked by medical students to give a talk to her school’s Reproductive and Sexual Health Society on the subject of pornography and the sexualisation of young women. Things changed, however, after she appeared on Radio 4’s “Moral Maze,” where she elaborated on heterodox ideas contained in a book she’d co-edited with Michele Moore, Transgender Children and Young People. Brunskell-Evan’s talk was cancelled. She also sustained a campaign of harassment, and was accused of “promoting prejudice” by members of her own Women’s Equality Party (WEP), for which she served as Spokesperson for the Policy on Violence Against Women and Girls. (After a lengthy investigation, Brunskell-Evans resigned from the party.)
Students are getting the message. Aside from the well-publicised case of Lindsay Shepherd—who was bullied by a supervisor for the crime of suggesting that pronoun usage was a matter of legitimate debate—there is the more recent case of Angelos Sofocleous, a philosophy MA student at the University of Durham who was fired as Assistant Editor from a journal for re-tweeting: “RT if women don’t have penises.” Sofocleous also faced a social media backlash, and eventually resigned as President-elect of the Humanist Students club. Indeed, trans extremists aren’t even trying to hide their witch-hunt tactics anymore. Goldsmiths researcher Natacha Kennedy, working under the name of Mark Hellen, was discovered to have orchestrated a smear campaign targeting female academics in the UK who refuse to conform to transgender ideology. (Kennedy encouraged members on a private Facebook group to draw up a list where “members plotted to accuse non-compliant professors of hate crime to try to have them ousted from their jobs.”)
Lisa Littman knew what to expect, in other words. But she also knew that her critics wouldn’t have a scientific leg to stand on. Her research passed peer and editorial reviews, and was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. And while critics focused on Littman’s methodology, which focused on testimonials from parents instead of children, such methods are quite commonplace in studies dealing with minors. (It also has been pointed out that nobody in the trans community spoke out in protest when a study using these exact same methods concluded that children thrived after transitioning.)
Last weekend the trans activist Helen Belcher resigned as a judge of a journalism prize because, against her wishes, I reached the shortlist. She announced that: “Since The Times started printing such [transphobic] pieces, starting with one by Turner in September 2017, I have heard of more trans suicides than at any point since 2012. These have mainly been of trans teenagers.”
When probed on Twitter she said: “I have heard reports of four trans suicides in the past few months, two in the past month. The media reporting was referenced in three of them.” Later, trans activist Paris Lees added that she held “individual journalists who stigmatise trans people personally responsible for the suicides of young trans people in this country”. No further detail was given.
That my work has caused the deaths of children is the most upsetting accusation I’ve faced in 30 years. It provokes many serious questions. Most importantly, is it true?
But first consider The Samaritans’ guidelines for reporting suicide which warn it is dangerous to attribute a death to a single cause: “speculation about the ‘trigger’ . . . should be avoided” as “young people are especially vulnerable to negative suicide coverage”. Yet some trans activists casually breach this code. This week Professor Stephen Whittle of Press for Change, a transgender lobby group, said that any delay to changing the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) would “lead to a flurry of suicides”. Retaining a 14-year-old law to permit further debate, he believes, will literally kill people.
Suicide is a dark trope in the trans movement. Parents who hesitate over medical intervention are told by some activists: “Better a living daughter than a dead son.” The ITV drama Butterfly, an infomercial for the trans support group Mermaids, is based upon the story of its CEO Susie Green, who took her child to Thailand for genital surgery at 16 (which was illegal in Britain and is now illegal in Thailand) and features a graphic suicide attempt. Mermaids cites high suicide rates in trans youth to push for faster, younger access to hormones and surgery. Ms Green told MPs that Gids (the NHS’s youth gender identity development service) has a suicide attempt rate of 48 per cent. This was based upon a self-selecting sample of 27 trans people aged under 26 analysed by the LGBT charity Pace.
The sane, compassionate response is more research. Let’s pull out the serious case reviews of every teen suicide to examine all possible causes, including newspaper reporting. Surely Mermaids would welcome proper, independent, methodologically-sound scientific inquiry. In the meantime, the most reliable source is Gids which says of 5,000 young patients referred between 2016 and August this year, there were three suicides and four attempts. Each death is the deepest tragedy, yet this makes a suicide rate of less than 1 per cent. Moreover, Gids director Dr Polly Carmichael has warned that suicidal discourse is “quite unhelpful”, creating a narrative around gender-diverse children “imbued with negativity and lack of resilience.”
Undoubtedly the suicide rate in Gids children is higher than average: many also suffer from anxiety and self-harm; a third of girls are on the autistic spectrum, others have suffered sexual abuse. This is a very troubled, vulnerable cohort. A 2011 Swedish study published in PLOS One found a high suicide risk prevails even after transition. So is it responsible for activists to insist that suicidal feelings are intrinsic to the trans experience, perhaps even a sign of being “true” trans?
A friend who was hospitalised with anorexia for three years as a teenager lost three fellow patients to suicide. She notes that although anorexia has the highest morbidity of any mental illness, clinicians do not let suicidal threats hamper treatment. “No one ever told my parents ‘Do exactly what she wants or she will kill herself.’ Because that would have been disgraceful.” Yet this is what is said to parents and clinicians who support “watchful waiting” of gender-questioning kids. Nor is discussion of anorexia framed by, say, ordering fashion designers to use bigger models “because you are literally killing girls”.
This past year, since Maria Miller’s women and equalities committee report, must have been gruelling for many trans people. I feel huge compassion for those stuck in the crossfire of a vicious debate. But Mrs Miller is to gender what David Cameron was to Brexit. She created a toxic, divisive mess then left others to clear up. In ignoring concerns from women’s groups, listening only to trans lobbyists, she recommended far-reaching legal changes including self-identification and an end to single-sex spaces, thus rewriting the definitions of “man” and “woman”.
Trans campaigners cannot demand legislation without scrutiny. My Times column from September 2017, which supposedly precipitated a suicide epidemic, described a feminist meeting where a trans activist punched a 60-year-old woman in the face. Everything I have written since has been intended to shed light. Why is there a 4,000 per cent rise in girls believing they are in the “wrong body”: why is a male sex offender’s gender identity more important than the safety of women prisoners, resulting in the case of Karen White; can a compromise be reached which meets both trans and women’s rights?
I asked questions because many women (including trans women) risk their livelihoods for airing dissent, and could not. Even 54 per cent of MPs, according to a ComRes poll, are scared to raise this subject. In the middle of a government consultation! No wonder, when suicide is shamefully wielded as a political weapon, when anyone who strays from dogma is accused of having children’s blood on their hands.