Four in five British 16 and 17 year olds have seen pornography online, most often on survey day • City, University of London

As the UK government turns to its Online Harm White Paper To protect children from online pornography, a new survey of 16 and 17 year olds by City, University of London supports the case for its introduction – but illustrates the scale of the government’s task.

The survey found that 78% of those surveyed had seen pornography online on various platforms and that their exposure was relatively recent.

Although respondents had viewed pornography an average of six days ago, it was very common that they had viewed it on survey day.

The results showed that more (63%) had seen pornography on social media platforms than on pornographic websites (47%).

However, pornography has been viewed much more recently on pornographic websites than on social media.

Additionally, the study found that 46% of 16- and 17-year-olds had used a virtual private network (VPN) or Tor browser.

Lead author of the study, Professor Neil Thurman, said:

Until now, there has been little evidence on what media platforms and technologies children use to access pornography, and to what extent; this new survey fills this gap.

– Professor Neil Thurman

“The results suggest that the UK government was correct in targeting social media platforms in its latest proposals.

“However, the fact that 16 and 17 year old users spend an average of more than two hours per month on sites dedicated to pornography shows how important the regulation of these sites remains.”

The UK government’s white paper on online mischief is designed to do what Part 3 of its 2017 Digital Economy Act (which was never implemented) failed to do – that is that is, crack down on social media platforms and search engines.

However, the extent to which 16 and 17 year olds are familiar with VPNs makes it clear that any regulation will not be a quick fix.

Professor Thurman, honorary senior researcher in the city’s journalism department, said:

“Our finding that 46% of 16- and 17-year-olds had used a VPN or Tor browser adds weight to concerns that restrictions on legal Internet pornography – such as age verification checks – imposed by a only countries can be bypassed by those which restrictions are designed to protect.

“Actions taken in individual jurisdictions, or that focus only on certain media platforms, are unlikely to reduce children’s exposure to online pornography as much as some hope. “

The study is published in the international peer-reviewed journal, Politics and the Internet.


About Professor Neil Thurman

Prof. Thurman is Professor of Communication in the Media and Communication Department at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. He was a full-time member of the Department of Journalism at City, University of London from 1997 to 2019 and retains an Honorary Principal Researcher role within the institution.

Follow Daniel on Twitter.



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