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Mumsnet backtracks support for net filter

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Cuddly, child-loving web forum, mumsnet was last night licking its wounds after a page providing fairly uncritical support for government proposals to censor the web was first mauled by geek attack – and then taken down.

However, in a swift repositioning, mumsnet have now come out as part of the search for a solution, rather than advocates of any particular approach.

The immediate cause of their discomfort is a campaign – supported variously by Tory MP’s such as Claire Perry, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey and media pressure group Safermedia – to make the internet an even safer place for children.

Earlier this week, Ed Vaizey was meeting with representatives from some of the larger ISPs to see if a common approach was possible. Two interesting possibilities were kicked around the table. First, that there should be filtering at the network level, with ISPs taking on the job of censoring online content. Second, there was believed to have been some discussion of the Safermedia proposal that all PCs and mobile phones should come with filters on as default.

Mumsnet instantly swung its not inconsiderable weight behind these campaigns – apparently making little distinction between the two issues – with a page that started by referring to Ed Vaizey’s campaign to prevent children from being exposed to pornography. Mumsnet said on the page: "We're backing his call, and we'll be pressing him to ensure that ISPs comply as soon as possible. Society has acted to protect children from pornographic images in magazines, in cinemas, and on videos and DVDs – we think it's time to act to protect them online."

The full page is only available now in cached form, as what followed was every apple-pie mom’s worst nightmare. According to one blogger, Mrs Trellis, the geeks rose up, mounting a concerted attack on mumsnet’s support for this idea. They pointed out various flaws, including the unworkability of such a scheme, the danger to smaller ISPs and, worst of all, the likelihood that mumsnet itself might be filtered for its robust approach to breast-feeding.

As regular readers will be aware, this is a live issue on Facebook, which appears all too often unable to distinguish healthy breast-feeding from more pornographic expressions of breast play.

So the page got pulled, and a spokeswoman for mumsnet took the opportunity to argue that this was all part of healthy debate. She told us: "A lot of our members are concerned with keeping children safe online. But we are genuinely agnostic on the right solution to apply."

She went on: "Yes. We did originally take a less agnostic position. We were hopeful that there could be a simple solution in terms of a network level filter, which would mean parents would be able to rely on networks applying their own controls."

However, she said, they met "some strong opposition" and "we have been informed by some of the conversation on the site". This may just be a polite way of owning up to the fact that they got it wrong – and are now taking a more considered position.

It does appear that mumsnet have learnt a lesson about jumping on bandwagons – and have shown a great deal more grace and skill at getting off one again, once proven to be wrong, than many of the career politicians that adorn our public stage. ®

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