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Friday 17 August 2018
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Commentary

In search of digital naughtiness

Mark Lyndersay writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

Hot-button reporting on the popularity of searches for porn in TT are always good for a quick read and a knowing snort.

If you happen to have a strong opinion about such naughtiness and want to point to evidence attributed to authoritative statistical sources, it’s catnip.

I know this because I’ve been there, and this country has been tops in searches for the term for many years now.

So when Mary Ann Lawyden, PhD, declared internet pornography the “new crack cocaine” last week at Consider This — A National Conversation, an event hosted by the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission and the Jubilee Catholic Community, it’s definitely time to take a closer look at the facts that are being used to uphold this notion of widespread national onanism.

In its own explanation of its trends resource, Google points out, “Each data point is divided by the total searches of the geography and time range it represents, to compare relative popularity. Otherwise places with the most search volume would always be ranked highest.”

The company is, therefore, being mindful of the reality that First World nations represent a disproportionate percentage of overall internet search traffic and wants each nation’s evaluated percentage to be more representative of its base of connected users.

Is it possible, then, to divine anything truly useful from this information?

Google’s reference material on the monitoring results notes, “We’ve been reporting these trends since 2004 with the annual Year in Search, but ultimately, it’s impossible to know the true intention behind a search query without asking users directly.”

So a deeply religious society investigating porn on the web might well generate as many searches as a repressed one searching for screen-based relief.

In addition, it’s unclear whether Google ranks search terms according to their content in arriving at these placings.

The word porn, used to describe pursuits that incite lust and craving, is often used on websites, in keywords and in searches to find “foodie porn,” “auto porn,” and other special interests that don’t fit the normal description of pornography but which inspire deeply focused interest.

Currently, TT has lost its top ranking to Zambia, an African nation of 1.9 million people who are just getting connected to the web, with just 13.5 per cent of the country online.

Most of these connections are on mobile devices, many of them on relatively cheap 30-day prepaid plans.

There’s probably a more interesting story about those searches from Zambia than there is in any continued pondering of the local use of the search term.

Not only has TT lost its not particularly coveted top spot, but the trends page (http://ow.ly/mpsH30hXAHC) can include countries which have relatively low search volumes.

When those countries are factored in, TT drops precipitously to tenth place, with Papua New Guinea taking the top spot followed by Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

TT is also off its sustained peak of search ranking for the term, achieved between July and August 2013 with a perfect score of 100 and is now down to a limp 75.

This is not to dismiss the concerns of the Catholic Church about the challenges that ready access to internet pornography might offer to the family unit.

Certainly, education and adult monitoring as well as civil, sensible discussion about the phenomenon are in order for every family connected to the web, but tossing numbers around suggesting that some sort of digital plague has descended on these islands helps nobody and only brings sensation to a matter that should command mature discussion and engagement.

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column can be found there.

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