UPDATE – 5/22, 9:01 a.m. EST: State senator Todd Weiler has announced his intention to introduce a bill in the next legislative session that would require Internet users in Utah to “opt-in” to view pornographic material.
The proposal aims to keep minors from being exposed to sexually explicit content online, which the state has officially deemed a public health crisis.
While a similar policy has been instituted in the United Kingdom, critics say that attempting to filter specific types of material on the Internet is a hopeless cause.
“Trying to control the Internet in these broad stroke ways never works,” said Pete Ashdown, founder of a Salt Lake City-based Internet service provider.
“I really don’t expect that the state of Utah is going to be able to exercise that kind of control over an interstate item such as the Internet,” he continued. “I don’t think they have the jurisdiction to.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a state resolution at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday that declares “pornography (as) a public health hazard” which leads to “societal harms.”
In addition to designating the mass consumption of explicit sexual content as “creating a public health crisis,” the Concurrent Resolution On The Public Health calls for “education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level in order to address the pornography epidemic that is harming the citizens of Utah and the nation.”
While the bill appropriates no state funding to actually combat the problem, the declaration can been seen as an important first step politically to curtail what some see as the abuse of sexual content online.
Specifically, the resolution alleges that “pornography is contributing to the hypersexualization of teens, and even prepubescent children in our society . . . the average age of exposure to pornography is now 11 to 12 years of age . . . this early exposure is leading to low self-esteem and body image disorders . . . and an increased desire among adolescents to engage in risky sexual behavior.”
“We realize this is a bold assertion and there are some out there who will disagree with us,” said Gov. Herbert. “We’re here to say it is, in fact, the full-fledged truth.”
The resolution was first introduced in the Utah state Senate by Todd Weiler in 2015, after a 2009 Harvard study found that Mormons in Utah were the largest group of pornography consumers in America.
The results of that study have been met with some skepticism by other research experts, however.
Brigham Young University professor Brian Willoughby said in an interview Tuesday that other studies on the subject have shown over-exposure to pornography can result in sexual aggression and less satisfying personal relationships.
In addition to the Resolution, Utah’s governor also signed separate legislation that requires information technology workers to report any child pornography found on a hard drive to law enforcement.
[NBC News] [Salt Lake Tribune] [AP] [Photo courtesy thelasthonestguy.com]