Censorship and Sex Ed

Apple’s new filter blocks sex ed searches and censors articles on ‘safe sex’ and ‘counseling for gay teens’ while letting searches for ‘Daily Stormer’ and ‘how to rape a woman’ go through.

The Quickie
5 min read
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Apple, we need to talk.

A funny thing happened when one of our team members attempted to make dessert last weekend. They found the recipe — for dulce de leche — blocked by the new parental restrictions introduced with the iPhone’s new iOS 12.0.1.

Why? Well, it took a bit of digging but all searches for leche — “milk” in Spanish, and sometimes slang for semen — were blocked entirely on their iPhone. Instead of the typical Google search results, it just showed this:

Over the past day, we discovered hundreds of searches that Apple’s new iOS censors entirely — meaning  the browser returns the same restricted alert for Google searches including:

  • sex ed
  • safe sex
  • teen pregnancy
  • is masturbation normal?
  • how to report sex abuse
  • what is consensual sex?
  • is porn real?
  • gay teen suicide hotline

You might not be surprised to learn that, with this filter, O.school's own content is blocked entirely. Conversations and information on consent, on basic anatomy, on healing after traumaon the long-term effects of bad sex ed — all blocked.

So is the acclaimed sex ed resource Scarleteen. So is Teen Vogue. Maxim…is not.

It gets worse! Not only does Apple block the searches themselves, on sites it doesn’t censor all together, it censors specific searches and articles — and I’m not talking PornHub or xHamster. So if you’re a kid going to Wikipedia to research articles on ‘safe sex’ or ‘gay teen’ — you’re out of luck. And don’t bother to use something like Wikihow to research ‘how to report sex abuse,’ because that search is blocked on multiple platforms.

Looking on Healthline if masturbation causes acne? Or Cosmopolitan to find out if bleeding after sex is normal? Sorry, that’s for adults only.

But with severe restrictions like this, surely Apple keeps incorrect information at bay, too? Well, not exactly…

Apple’s filter provides easy access to the Daily Stormer, for one. In case you need a reminder, Daily Stormer is the American white supremacist site that’s been banned on nearly every platform, and was eventually kicked off several web hosting services. (It lives on today as a .name site).

Daily Stormer bills itself as “The #1 Rape-Legalization Website,” but nothing on the site appears worthy of a restriction by Apple.

Charming.

And don’t worry, your favorite woman-hating subreddits — r/4chan and r/Mensrights are untouched. (For that matter, so is the porn-filled r/porn. While Wikipedia’s articles on “sexual intercourse” are censored, limiting access to a subreddit seems beyond the scope of Apple’s censor.)

And while the new Apple blocks searches for “how do I say no to sex,” it doesn’t block people searching for “how do I rape a woman?” or even…“cunt punch.”

And while “counseling for gay teens” is blocked, but sites offering medically-discredited conversion therapy sure aren’t.

Neither is the Westboro Baptist Church, in case your kids want to hold up their “God Hates Fags” signs.  

At least we stopped them from going to that evil Teen Vogue, though!

Where does this leave kids? Incredibly vulnerable. Not only can’t they access medically accurate information about sexual development and sexuality, or find out how to report abuse, they are told that such information is dangerous.

Meanwhile, it provides them access to the most virulent, inaccurate sex and gender information on the web.

Apple's Censorship is Gender-Biased

And what’s getting banned seems a little lopsided …

Is it possible that a woman’s sexual development is still seen as more dangerous than man’s? I’m shocked!

I started O.school because I wanted to put an end to the shame-based, anti-lgbtq, medically inaccurate, information that I had been fed as a teen. While I’m disappointed that Apple is using porn filters to censor O.school — a site without even a hint of sideboob —  I’m more concerned about the breadth of information they’ve chosen to censor.

That’s why I’m calling on Apple to answer basic questions about who and what it's censoring. This isn’t some neutral act — if you’re cutting off resources for gay kids, blocking information about puberty and assault reporting, you’re ACTIVELY hurting children.

  • Who designed the filter?
  • What are the filter settings?
  • Were parents consulted? Conservatives and religious groups? Doctors and Sex educators?
  • Are sites like Wikipedia aware that specific internal pages are being blocked?
  • What non-porn sites are being blocked?
  • How can people report problems?

We can fix this — in fact, as a sex educator and tech entrepreneur, I’d love nothing more than to help the Apple team get it right. But we need to let Apple know that this isn’t acceptable.

Try it yourself (the new content restrictions are available under “Screen Time” in Settings), and let us — and @apple — know what you find on Twitter.

Your kid’s health and safety may depend on it.

Andrea Barrica
Founder, O.school
@odotschool

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