The OTW has been told that laptops in the UK distributed to lower income people by Comet through the Home Access scheme come with site-blocking software that adult users can’t turn off. Categories of blocked sites include: “Social Networking, Drug/Violant natured [sic] and Adult content websites”: in practice, this means no LiveJournal, Facebook, Twitter, or Fanfiction.net (you can still get to the AO3 though!); sites like the EFF (blocked as “hacking and other threats”) as well as many feminist and GLBTQ sites (“adult”) are also blocked.
Ironically, the UK government’s own Digital Inclusion report recommends public initiatives to encourage the use of social networking software among the poor and disadvantaged, including elderly and disabled persons. Home Access laptops are supposed to be used for educational and creative purposes: a knee-jerk ban on social networking ignores the degree to which these sites can keep isolated individuals–stay at home moms, the elderly and disabled–connected and informed. These sites are also important for political activism, coalition-building, and creativity.
Home Access should investigate the practices of distributors like Comet, who are getting government money and distributing a broken product. “Net nanny” software should be customizable by adult users, but moreover, the “threat” of social networking, open source, gender and sexuality, and fanfiction sites should be re-evaluated. Giving the public access to the internet should mean giving the public access to the internet without discriminating against or patronizing users.