Porn free

19-01-2017 Blog

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“What do the kids actually do on Instagram?” – a query to a former colleague last week who has an 11-year-old daughter. My question came from a genuine anthropological place, but also a primitive maternal one: I wanted to know what sort of pixelated gauntlet we’d be running as parents when Mae gets her hands on the iPhone 32. I wanted all the awareness and understanding of this like/comment/follow-centric tech in my arsenal.

 

So, like two school kids (with an abundance of wrinkles and skirts at a reasonable non-bum-skimming length) we stumbled into her daughter’s worryingly-accessible profile. I queried why it wasn’t on private setting and got a ‘oh, she’s only friends with children’. I emailed her later that evening about the benefits of putting that account on a sort of Alcatraz-worthy lock-down. (Ironic, I realise after looking at my own ‘let it all hang out’ approach to Instagram.)

 

But in we went and on first glance there was nothing sinister: just a wealth of selfies and the occasional shoe-fie (assume that’s a thing) peppered with blurry photos of their cat called ‘Banjo’* or on seemingly more affectionate days ‘Banjeroo’.

 

The comments were generally all emoji-fied or undeciperhable (“LOL SMH”) to the aged eye/mind. But one commenter stood out for his consistent smattering of ‘fit’ under each selfie. Now, I’m down with the kids enough to know he wasn’t referring to her affinity with the local Fitness First gym chain.

 

We had a quick peruse of his also unlocked profile – it was all harmless stuff to be fair; a group selfie here, a video game Boomerang there – and left it for fear of edging into predatory realms ourselves.

 

Until two days later when I received a personal Instagram message from him that read: “Why did you like my photo?”

 

There was that sickening feeling usually reserved for brown Council Tax letters or a police visit during a house party gone rogue. I knew I’d done something horribly wrong; I knew that while an accident and fuelled by innocent intentions, I was in the wrong.

 

And in going off piste so brazenly and clumsily, I took the well-worn head-in-the-sand approach and hoped it would just go away. But that’s the issue with Instagram – that little ‘seen’ stamp that pops up when you’ve clapped eyes on someone’s message scuppers this approach.

 

“I know you’ve seen this.”

 

I considered blocking but my husband said he was ‘just a kid’ and ignoring would suffice. Another day passed and it was then that I received what I had sensed lay behind the relentless ‘fit’ comments that had raised an eyebrow/concern at the beginning of this whole pixelated pickle. What lay on that screen came from the dark depths of YouPorn.

 

I am not someone who shies away from brash, erotically-charged words or sexual innuendo. I’m au fait with YouPorn having dabbled occasionally myself and while I could ignore the pneumatic tits and tangerine faux tans of the ‘top shelf’ in newsagents, I am delighted they are withering and dying out, one closure at a time – Nuts, Zoo, FHM, the crumbling Penthouse, adios.

 

But this was an 11-year-old telling a pregnant 35-year-old mother what he wanted to do to her.

 

I immediately rang my mate Polly, a teacher with the grottiest of laughs and generally swathed in sequins, regardless of the hour or occasion. Her usual upbeat chatter ebbed away as I explained the situation: “Yeah, that’s pretty intense. I’ll be honest I’d lose my job if that was ever unearthed on my account – even though there was no intention, it was something you incited.”

 

I blocked, I panicked, I wondered how I’d crossed the pixelated line between perusing and then inadvertently inciting pornographic prose. I wondered whether this 11-year-old was alone penning this grot or with a bunch of chums egging him on into MILF-terrorising realms.

 

I went back to my former colleague and unburdened the whole messy slew of events. After initial black comedic chat that centred around me being a paedophile, it dawned on her that I – her mate who called herself ‘Mother Pukka’ and used the word ‘twunt’ in features meetings – was fumbling around in the dark and, that, perhaps, the graphic ‘banter’ that had flooded my way could have just as easily landed in her daughter’s account.

 

‘Fit’ was just the peak of this confusing iceberg.

 

My husband tried to calm the situation by referring to a time him and his mates wanted to do naughty things to Kim Cattrall in the 80s film Mannequin. But what I explained was the line between fantasy and reality here had been crossed. Boys might well be boys but when that highly-sexualised banter or masculine bravado manifests itself as words being directed towards a person – in this case a stranger – that’s when the alarm needs to be raised.

 

Because despite me potentially losing my fictitious teaching career over this or being deeply, deeply disturbed by the content of that cum-smattered message. Despite genuinely halting for a moment when the word ‘paedophile’ was used misguidedly in jest to lighten the mood. And despite the archaic toss that ‘boys will be boys’, the fact remains that this chat might have landed in an 11-year-old girl’s inbox.

 

This is not locker room ‘bants’, this is not normal – even in a world that will potentially have us wiping our arses with our smartphones. As a woman and mother, this is a line that has been crossed – a line that I accidentally, yet stupidly crossed into a dark world** that (with the permission of my colleague) needs some light shed on it.

 

That light?

 

Making sure you are the one that has ‘seen’ what’s actually going on and not someone else’s daughter.

 

That’s our parental armour in this brave, new and explicit world.

 

*name changed to protect identity.

 

**The content of the graphic messages has been brought to the attention of all parents concerned. All parents concerned have given permission for this content to be published in the hope of raising awareness of the potential consequences of phone use to other parents.

 

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