London - A neuroscientist has backed an opt-in system for online pornography, saying extreme images may cause long-term harm to children’s brains.
Baroness Susan Greenfield urged ministers to respect parents’ concerns over uncontrolled internet access.
The Oxford University professor said the developing brain was “vulnerable” and that children needed to be protected from premature sexualisation.
Already, she said, young people she had spoken to believed “relationships are for losers” and that having multiple sexual partners would impress their friends.
The Daily Mail is campaigning for an automatic block on online porn unless over-18s specifically ask their internet service providers to let them see such material, following strict age verification.
Baroness Greenfield said: “If I had to choose between unfettered internet access, and having children potentially harmed psychologically or worse by porn sites, then for me the decision is an easy one.
“This [opt in] seems to be the simplest and something simple is easiest for people to deal with. We know that the young brain, because it is still developing, is vulnerable. It is so easily influenced, exposing young people to extreme behaviours like that, might influence it in a way that could be long term.”
Baroness Greenfield said children’s brains may be vulnerable to pornography, as well as suicide and eating disorder sites, on the back of evidence from studies on drug use, video games and criminal behaviour, showing long-term effects from early exposure.
Recently, a petition signed by 115,000 – including 140 MPs – was handed in to Downing Street, demanding that internet service providers block online porn.
It came as a Government consultation on controls for online porn ended after receiving 2,000 responses.
Baroness Greenfield expressed concern it may not give enough weight to parents, as anyone could take part.
She said: “We have to find out what people think and bow to the majority, and it’s hard to imagine the majority of parents saying they don’t mind their children accessing porn sites.
“What concerns me is that a young person without children doesn’t have the same concerns as a parent would have, so I would like to see parents having a voice.”
Baroness Greenfield, who was axed from scientific body the Royal Institution, has courted controversy in the past by claiming social networking sites can “rewire” our brains.
And speaking at the British Science Festival in Aberdeen this week, she said: “I’ve spoken to young people about this and they say there’s this low grade anxiety all the time, engendered by Facebook and the like that you must be completely beautiful, and have all the friends.
“Another thing I’ve heard is that only losers have real relationships, because if you’re attractive you can have all manner of suitors and partners. This notion of a relationship where you know someone well, talk to them face to face, spend time with them, perhaps those things are less important now, than being seen to be a commodity.”
Thursday’s petition, organised by campaign group Safetynet was handed in by Tory MP Claire Perry, who chaired a parliamentary inquiry into the issue earlier this year.
Earlier this week the Archbishop of York also warned of the dangers of online pornography, which he said caused “immeasurable misery” and made boys see girls as “sex objects”.
Miranda Suit, from the SafetyNet campaign, welcomed the comments.
She said: “Children’s charities have joined our campaign, senior church leaders are backing us and now we have a respected scientist warning of the dangers.
“An opt-in filter enjoys widespread support, and the harm to children is becoming obvious now to every sector of society.” - Daily Mail