Users in Virginia seeking out adult content have been in for something of a rude awakening this week as adult content has started to be blocked across the State.
As a result, there has been a huge uptick in the number of searches for VPNs as users seek ways around another ill-advised attempt at censoring legal content on spurious moral grounds.
Virginia Age Verification Laws
The current situation has arisen thanks to the decision by State officials in Virginia to require all adult websites to demand age verification from every user.
The objective of this is to try and prevent young people from accessing adult content, something that in and of itself is not a bad idea. But the law they have decided to implement also has the effect of requiring adults to prove their age to access legal content and websites to add expensive age verification tools to their sites.
Inevitably most adult websites operate far beyond the confines of the US state of Virginia, and many are reluctant to spend huge sums on such technology for such a small proportion of their audience.
As a result, as the July 1st deadline arrived, a large number of the most popular adult websites took the step of blocking all users from the State of Virginia to ensure they were compliant with the law without having to implement age verification.
When Virginia residents try to access PornHub now, they will see a letter which neatly summarises the situation. It says:
“As you may know, your elected officials in Virginia are requiring us to verify your age before allowing you to access our website. While safety and compliance are at the forefront of our mission, giving your ID card every time you want to visit an adult platform is not the most effective solution for protection of our users, and in fact, will put children and your privacy at risk.”
This is absolutely right. Far from making people safer, age verification, which requires the inputting of sensitive personal information online is actually putting young internet users at significant risk. Arguably this risk is greater than that posed by the adult websites many are seeking to access.
It is not just PornHub that is now blocked in Virginia. Multiple other sites went offline late on Thursday as the 1st July deadline approached.
It is, therefore, no coincidence that Google Trends found a huge spike in the number of searches for Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in the State of Virginia on Thursday evening and Friday morning, according to the Washington Examiner.
This is a similar trend to the one that was seen in the State of Utah only last month after they implemented a similar ill-advised law.
As a British website, we certainly hope that the British Government, which also has aspirations for a similar age verification system, is watching the car crash currently unfolding stateside.
Why Age Verification can’t work and VPN use rises
The simple fact is that age verification laws, like the one implemented by Virginia this month and Utah last month, simply do not and cannot work.
The internet is not something that can be regulated at state level or even at a national level. It is a global technology and most adult content sites serve international audiences.
One State or one country choosing to demand age verification is not enough to make sites like PornHub want to spend the huge sums and inconvenience their huge audience for. It is easier for them to lose that small proportion of their audience than take these steps.
They also know full well that most of their Virginia-based users will have no trouble getting around the State’s block and accessing their content anyway. That’s where a VPN comes in.
Virginia-based users that are itching to log back into PornHub, have discovered that all they have to do is connect to a VPN server located outside the State of Virginia. Avoid Utah for obvious reasons, but just about any other US State, or any other country around the world will do.
Once you they connected, they search for PornHub and log in as usual. This works because sites will look at at user’s IP Address, see that it is outside Virginia, and allow them access anyway.
Almost all PornHub users will already know this. Those that don’t will just have to do a quick Google search, and they soon will. Certainly, any determined young people will still be able to access their preferred adult content regardless of this law. The fact is most look at such content on social media, which is not even covered by these laws.
Yet, for some reason, lawmakers across the land seem blissfully unaware. And as a result, we see useless laws like the one just brought into force in Virginia.
What happens now in Virginia?
For most people in Virginia, it will require a couple of minutes to download a VPN, and their online adult habits will continue as before.
For others, the good news is that lawsuits are likely to follow. As the Washington Examiner has explained, the Free Speech Coalition is already suing authorities in Utah, arguing that Utah law unfairly discriminates against certain kinds of speech and also intrudes on the privacy of people.
Such a lawsuit is highly likely to follow in Virginia too.
The fact is that age verification laws do not stop young people from accessing online content. Many access it through non-traditional sites like social media, which are not covered by the requirements, and others can easily use a VPN to get around any blocks.
The best way to stop young people from looking at inappropriate content online is to educate them and their families about good online habits and monitor what they do online as much as is possible.
Let’s hope the other 48 US states, the UK Government, and other countries around the world can learn from Utah and Virginia’s ill-advised age verification experiment.