So you may have heard the rumours that there are problems with alternative spirituality on the UK internet. People have found they can’t access spiritual websites from public browsers:
“Together with my wife, we run a holistic business which also mentions “spiritual healing” amongst other key services such as Reiki, Reflexology and Indian Head Massage. I was stunned to find that I could not access my own website as it was blocked for “religious” content. The message on the screen told me it was classified under “Alternative Spirituality/Belief”, and access was categorically blocked.”
This is not a government crackdown on us spiritual types! It is much more like a cockup, but one that may get worse if people like you and I don’t get the word out.
Here is what has happened:
1. For whatever reason, we don’t know why (some say it’s a law in France, some that it’s simply conservatives, some that it’s leftover scareys from the satanic panic of the 80s, etc.) internet filtering has for years been able to pick up alternative spirituality and filter it out.
2. So far the actual filtering has been done by ISPs and phone networks. This has affected public surfing eg. libraries and internet cafés, but very importantly, the orange phone network already has it too.
3. The key is that it works by opt out, that is, by default sites are being filtered, and you have to specify that you don’t want them filtered. Sometimes this is easy to specify (eg. when setting up internet at home) but with Orange you actually have to write to them to get that opt-out, otherwise you have no esoteric websites.
5. Cameron has come in and said that this opt-out filtering should be a requirement for all ISPs — to catch porn and terrorists etc. — and spirituality might accidentally get hooked up in that without anyone having seen it happening. This is not law, nor has a law been proposed. It looks like the ISPs are being asked to comply voluntarily. Cameron might go for a law if it doesn’t happen, but at the moment my opinion is that the government has no idea alternative spirituality is a standard opt-out filter.
So: Contact your ISP and ask them what their policies are on opt-out filters. State you don’t want spirituality to be filtered by default and will move to a different ISP if it is.
Nothing spiritual should be filtered from browsers and phones by default. (Some people want to voluntarily block sites with alt spirituality, but it should not be a default setting!)
If you are British, contact your MP! I don’t think parliament is aware this is happening.
At present I’m trying to find out what providers filter what stuff, but I think the only phone filterer of the esoteric is Orange.
The following is the letter sent to my MP via Write to Them but don’t copy and paste, or yours won’t be sent!
RE: INTERNET FILTERING OF SPIRITUAL WEBSITES
I’m writing about recent government proposals on web filtering for
Internet Service Providers. This “opt-out” filtering is intended to
catch pornographic and terrorist websites but I think parliament is
unaware that some ISPs are already filtering spirituality websites as
well. I haven’t been able to discover a reason — one theory is that it
is in response to a French law which doesn’t apply here. In any case,
sites in the category “alternative spirituality”, “alternative
religion”, “esoteric information” and so on have been routinely
filtered on an opt-out basis by some net providers for years now. There
is no reason for doing this as a standard opt-out service, and the new
government filtering initiative is a perfect opportunity to stop it
Probably the most important mobile network doing this is Orange. The
problem has also been seen happening in libraries, internet cafés,
McDonalds and Caffé Nero. Because the default filtering is opt-out in
nature, these establishments probably don’t even know they are doing
it. To opt out of the filtering on Orange apparently requires
contacting them — users who don’t know this may be experiencing large
swathes of the internet as unobtainable from Orange phones.
At least a million people use spirituality services every week in the
UK (meditation groups for example) and the research indicates they are
positive for emotional and physical health. Yet at some point, someone
has begun filtering for them as if they were in the same category as
websites encouraging terrorism or adolescent suicide! Whatever the
reason for this when it began, it has become truly ridiculous — there
are places in the UK where you cannot simply google for a yoga teacher.
Web traffic to legitimate and healthy businesses is suffering.
The concern now is that the government may recommend *all* ISPs provide
these kinds of default settings. If so, there is a good chance that
this kind of thing will become standard practice without ever having
been intended to affect spirituality. If indeed the government wants to
recommend opt-out filtering, spirituality should not be recommended as
a default setting. Protecting people from unwanted hardcore pornography
by default is one thing, but filtering healthy spirituality by default
is quite another.
Many thanks for reading.