It’s difficult to feel anything but revulsion when pondering the case of former ABC Collectors host Andy Muirhead’s dramatic and public fall from grace. As Kate Legge noted in her lengthy piece in The Weekend Australian MagazineChild pornography sickens to the core’.

Is that Life? Pic: Supplied

Despite his defence arguments to the contrary, this week in Hobart Chief Justice Ewan Crawford told the Tasmanian Supreme Court he was satisfied the 36-year-old entertainer had a “sexual interest” in the 12,433 still and video images, some including sadism or humiliation.

In the case of Muirhead, we now know he downloaded thousands of images of innocent children.

The police certainly helped chip away at the massive global audience for this material. One hopes that by catching those who contribute to creating the demand for these images, innocent victims might be spared such abuse in the future.

The issue that has been raised in Muirhead’s defence is that he actually had no interest in children as sex objects, but was driven by a self destructive urge and curiosity.

The line of defence deserves some further consideration. While certainly not excusing the act of repeatedly downloading such material, there are questions here that deserve answers. My first question is: What are the future human implications of an increasingly ubiquitous internet that has provided us with such a dangerous tool that is becoming easier and easier to misuse?

When such material is available through a simple Google image search with key words, or pressing a link on a file-sharing network - can we be said to be guilty of committing a heinous crime or, as Muirhead argued, has the net become a place where vulnerable people will inevitably become victims of destructive human curiosity?

And if, as appears to be the case with Muirhead, someone is possessed by a self-destructive impulse and find themselves alone with nothing but a computer for company, shouldn’t society be setting up some kind of mechanisms for getting help to these people before they damage themselves and contribute to an evil online human commerce? 

Yes, there must be a vital point where a line is crossed when the user agrees to download illegal material for which they should be held accountable for there actions. But we are never given any guidance or training in how to manage the awesome power for good or evil encapsulated on the web.

We are essentially left to our own devices every time we boot up our web browser, and no consideration or filter is available to determine the user’s mental state or propensity for self-destruction.

In a less extreme but none-the-less relevant case, US Senator Anthony Weiner last year fell into disgrace after emailing crude photos of his nether-regions to his thousands of followers on Twitter. It appears he was more interested in juvenile ego stroking via the web than actually meeting up with anyone for sex. He let the term ‘followers’ on Twitter go to his head and attached a sexual dimension to the descriptor.

Apart from appallingly bad judgment, his mistake was to press ‘reply to all’ rather than just ‘reply’ to one sender on Twitter resulting in thousands of unsuspecting users getting to see much more of their spritely Senator than they might have wished. Ouch!

For those of us living and working immersed in a period of almost overwhelming transformation in the way we work and communicate online, it is difficult not to feel a twinge of empathy for those ensnared in the darkest corners of the web, or facing the public humiliation of an ill-conceived key-stroke.

There is a massive and widening maw that exists between what we can now all access 24 hours a day from the privacy of our own computers, and a thorough understanding of the dangers and risks involved. I think it is time government regulators and educators stepped up their efforts to at least give people the tools to make wise decisions online before more lives are ruined by moments of bad judgment and online transgression.

Our decisions online affect real people, often innocent people caught in a vile corner of online commerce based on profiting from the vulnerability or criminal servitude of others. The sparkling veneer of an online free-for-all from which we are camouflaged within our own privacy bubbles must continue to be popped by international police, but it must also be tackled more strenuously by online educators to connect these dots in the minds of users before they cross that threshold and find themselves in virtual hell.

The German philosopher Rudolf Steiner once presciently wrote a bleak vision for the future in which he described a ‘web’ that would be designed to connect humans - but would ultimately come to suffocate us like a spider’s web. It is something that Andy Muirhead might reflect on as he serves out the rest of his ten-month prison term sifting through his guilt and shame, and attempts to restore some semblance of light and normality to his life.

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    • marley says:

      07:16am | 04/10/12

      ” I think it is time government regulators and educators stepped up their efforts to at least give people the tools to make wise decisions online before more lives are ruined by moments of bad judgment and online transgression.”

      Unbelievable.  The government has to step in to help people make wise decisions.  How about people take responsibility for their own decisions, wise or not?  By the time you hit adulthood, you are a literate, sentient human being with the capacity to know right from wrong.  You may still be on L plates when it comes to decision making, but it is not the government’s job to sit in the back seat and guide you through the highways and byways of life.  It’s your job, and no one else’s.

    • fairsfair says:

      07:54am | 04/10/12

      Well said Marley.

      “moments of bad judgement and online transgression…”

      They are looking at child porn! That is not bad judgement or a transgression - in our society it is immoral and illegal. They know that but they are following impulse. People don’t need to be reminded of this by teachers and with bilboards on the sides of highways. In fact many would argue that discussion would increase traffic to and interest in the material.

      We just need to accept that sexual deviance exists in society and really there is nothing more that can be done that what is currently being done. We need to protect the victims but acknowledge we can’t save them all. When these people are caught there is no consensus on punishment and really if we are being honest with ourselves, we probably need to settle on that before we start looking at how to prevent it.

    • Mahhrat says:

      08:17am | 04/10/12

      I’m with you on this one, Marley.

      Here is a sentence:

      “Child Abuse is wrong, heniously wrong, and should never be supported, either by directly abusing, providing material or sourcing material (except when investigating networks to break them).”

      I would suggest that only the most very dysfunctional people would look at that sentence and suggest there’s wriggle room for them to enjoy some child pornography.

      Andy’s playing a victim card and it’s absolute bullshit, and “do-gooders” are using his vastly insincere rationalistions to gain control and power.

    • Greg says:

      09:38am | 04/10/12

      Maybe just maybe you could cop the moment of bad judgement excuse for happening to look at one page once ever then close it and never look again.

      But seriously 12,433 images isn’t a bad decision or a transgression that’s a conscious decision to seek out and collect these images.  He should of gotten a lot more than 10 months.

      It should not be up to the government to baby sit you on the net just like it’s not up to the government to ensure you don’t cross the road and get run over you make these decisions yourself and you have to live with the consequences.

      If people want to look at kiddie porn, people blowing goats or indulge in online bullying then they are free too but they must also know they will be dealt with to the full extent of the law.  Where the regulators need to step in isn’t in the homes of your average Joe it’s in the homes of the people providing the illegal material so average Joe can not access it in the first place.

    • gobsmack says:

      09:43am | 04/10/12

      I would hope that schools are already drumming into students that they should think carefully before pressing the “download”, “send/submit” or “buy now” buttons.  It seems that the prevalence on the internet of people with poor impulse control is increasing.

      Most people don’t need to be told by the government that they shouldn’t be punching strangers in the face, nevertheless, I see the merit in the “One Punch Can Kill” campaign.

    • subotic says:

      09:44am | 04/10/12

      it is not the government’s job to sit in the back seat and guide you through the highways and byways of life.  It’s your job, and no one else’s.

      marley, try telling the government that….

    • marley says:

      10:07am | 04/10/12

      @subotic - the government reflects what it thinks the people want from it.  The more people who think like James Norman, the more expectations are placed on government to look after us, and protect us from ourselves.  And the more the government will intervene in response to those expectations.  The problem starts with us and our expectations, not with the government.  So I say, head off the James Normans, and we’re making a start.

    • read the article! says:

      10:36am | 04/10/12

      So, Marley, would you say that a young person (even a child) wandering around in a porn store is entirely culpable when they pick up an illegal magazine?
      The article is making the point that this material is so easy to access (by anyone online including children) that we are creating a situation where people are gonna get themselves into trouble.
      The main point seems to be that it would not hurt to provide some education for young people about the dangers of the web, and the potential consequences of their actions.
      So why do you want to shut the debate down by attacking the author?

    • andrew says:

      10:40am | 04/10/12

      @Greg - “Where the regulators need to step in isn’t in the homes of your average Joe it’s in the homes of the people providing the illegal material so average Joe can not access it in the first place.”

      Most of the websites at the extreme end of the scale would not be set up in Australia, I would hazard a guess that many would be based in eastern Europe. I agree with you it would be better to stop the source than punish the user - however it would require much international effort.

    • andrew says:

      10:47am | 04/10/12

      @fairsfair - “moments of bad judgement and online transgression…”

      They are looking at child porn! That is not bad judgement or a transgression - in our society it is immoral and illegal.

      It’s not always that simple - spend enough hours searching for “teen ......” on the web intending to find 18-21 year olds and you’re bound to come across a few images of girls that look suspiciously younger than that. If you then navigate away from that page to something more appropriate is that still classed as illegal, or only if you then actively saved those images to your hard drive / repeatedly viewed the same pages?

    • subotic W. Smith says:

      10:56am | 04/10/12

      I know marley.

      Hell, Orwell wasn’t even close to this “reality”.

      As Jello Biafra once said - At last, everything is done for you….

    • marley says:

      11:27am | 04/10/12

      @read the article - maybe you should change your handle.  The author isn’t talking about children in his article, and neither am I.  He’s talking about adults - himself, Muirhead, the US Senator - and suggesting the government “do something” to keep them from falling into internet hell.  Well, sorry, but Muirhead and his ilk are old enough to figure out the perils, and the rights or wrongs for themselves.

    • Markus says:

      11:28am | 04/10/12

      “spend enough hours searching for “teen ......” on the web intending to find 18-21 year olds and you’re bound to come across a few images of girls that look suspiciously younger than that.”
      12,433 of them? That you then proceed to save to your PC?

    • read the article! says:

      11:39am | 04/10/12

      Marley - the article mentions ‘vulnerable people’ who might be surfing the web, and also prescribes that these issues be included in the education system. I am more specifically raising the issue of children accessing this material - I think its covered in the article, although not directly. The specific cases mentioned are sparking a broader discussion here.

    • Sickemrex says:

      07:53am | 04/10/12

      Are you the same James Norman that was whingeing a few months ago about retinal scanners, CCTV and ID records in nightclubs? And now wants more government regulation regarding internet use?

      I find it hard to feel a twinge of empathy for someone committing a crime. It’s not like he Googled “sunshine and butterflies” and accidentally downloaded child porn. Thousands of times.

      Where’s the personal responsibility here? If you’re not sure if you’re about to do something illegal on the internet, you’re in front of a very useful instrument to find out.

      Wrong “there” paragraph 9.

    • subotic says:

      08:03am | 04/10/12

      Comments on this post will be strictly moderated

      They’re not on other posts? Pfffft.

      ICB. The sparkly, vampire type….

    • seniorcynic says:

      08:21am | 04/10/12

      I thought it ironic that Andy Muirhead compered “The Collectors” when he had his own collection at home which he was not going to show.

    • Mahhrat says:

      08:21am | 04/10/12

      The internet is inherently wild.  It cannot be tamed and will not be tamed.  It will test our morality in ways you can’t even consider.

      Here’s an easy one for you.  Bioshock.  In this game, you have the opportunity of saving a young (about 8) girl’s life, or deliberately and cold-bloodedly killing her.  Either decision has effects on how your game plays out.

      Lets go forward 40 years.  We now have interaction on a level not unlike the Matrix, where computer responses are so good you can be forgiven for not knowing whether who you’re enjoying cybersex with is real or fake.

      What if that AI is in the form of a 6 year old girl?  No child is harmed - is it still wrong?  What about if it’s a real person but their online Avatar is a child?  There’s a consenting adult on the other side of the ‘net; is that still wrong?

      (I would suggest yes to both, as child porn is child porn, but are you seriously telling me you’ll be able to prevent it?)

      No.  You have to hold the individual accountable.  We cannot protect our own real life streets, let alone the infinite ones on the ‘web.

    • subotic P.K. Dick says:

      09:41am | 04/10/12

      Did somebody say “Minority Report”?

    • Tubesteak says:

      08:06am | 04/10/12

      “can we be said to be guilty of committing a heinous crime or, as Muirhead argued, has the net become a place where vulnerable people will inevitably become victims of destructive human curiosity?”

      I would argue “yes” and “stiff”. Regardless of your motivations it’s still a crime. You’re also adding to the demand. No different to someone that downloads the stuff so they can have a bat.

      “shouldn’t society be setting up some kind of mechanisms for getting help to these people before they damage themselves and contribute to an evil online human commerce?”

      No, we shouldn’t waste money on people that can’t HTFU and learn a bit of self-control.

      ” But we are never given any guidance or training in how to manage the awesome power for good or evil encapsulated on the web”

      Proof that common sense isn’t that common. Do the crime, do the time.

      “I think it is time government regulators and educators stepped up their efforts to at least give people the tools to make wise decisions online”

      No, we don’t need more government interference in our lives. We don’t need a nanny state. We don’t need an internet filter. We don’t need someone to hold our hand all the time. Grow up.

    • Al says:

      08:44am | 04/10/12

      Point 1) Fully agree with your view Tubesteak.
      Point 2) Agree, but perhaps worded a bit differently such as we should teach people what is actualy illegal. I am still waiting for someone to provide a list of the laws of Australia that I need to follow that can be understood without a law degree.
      Point 3) See Point 2) also the quote actualy borders on seeking censorship and ignores that what is viewed as ‘good’ or ‘evil’ is different for every single person. Generaly not the big stuff, but the stuff that is in the middle, the moderate stuff is up for debate.
      Point 4) The problem I have with the quote is what is a wise decision? It would be more acurate to seek to educate people as to what they are required by law to do. See point 2).
      Overall I agree with you Tubesteak, I am generaly refering to the quoted points, not your responses to them except where explicity refered to.

    • Tubesteak says:

      10:57am | 04/10/12

      Al
      If you’re looking for a list of the laws of Australia that you are required to follow then that would be a very long list.

      I direct you to http://www.austlii.edu.au

      Criminal laws are usually calles “Crimes Act” in most states. Just pick your relevant state.

    • stephen says:

      08:25am | 04/10/12

      Seems inefficient economics in sentencing for a Judge to determine a maximum sentence, then subtracts jailtime through mitigating circumstances so that, at the end, a culprit get 3 months inside.
      Better that they argue for a minimum sentence, which they must apply once a charge has been proven, then add on punishment time for aggravating circumstances.

      Gives a person’s bad behaviour a whole new perspective.

    • Craig says:

      08:39am | 04/10/12

      Downloading and storing thousands of images of child pornography on your computer for later viewing goes beyond curiosity,

      The government doesn’t need to step in to help these people. We have laws to put them away.

      If people cannot seek help from the many channels alreasy available or control their impulses themselves they move from the social system to the criminal system.

      Governments don’t exist to create a perfect society. We have to do that ourselves, and let government take care of the details that companies and communities won’t

    • andrew says:

      10:34am | 04/10/12

      it’s not as easy for an individual to limit what they can view on the internet as you may think Craig - my experience was that websites can choose to identify themselves as adult-orientated, or not . Because of this I found that simply selecting a restriction level on my internet settings and then typing in some random password I would never remember was ineffective , as I could still access the majority of sites. I even resorted to typing websites in one by one on a blocked list , however there are millions of sites so one can never block them all.

      In the end it was only self-control that has allowed me to stop looking at adult websites, being in a relationship with a woman helps too smile

    • Subtitle says:

      09:07am | 04/10/12

      Lol at ‘not receiving training’ on what not to download from the web…you should be a defence lawyer.

    • Anna C says:

      09:17am | 04/10/12

      This case has been very shocking.  I used to watch ‘Collectors’ and he always seemed such a nice boy.  Just goes to show that looks can be deceiving.

    • read the article! says:

      09:37am | 04/10/12

      The point being made here is just how easy it is these days to access such material. The author makes it clear that Andy stepped way over the line and deserved to be punished, but the bigger point here is that this material is now everywhere online - and even kids are able to access it - sometimes by accident.
      I don’t think its too much to ask that we find some ways to educate people about what is out there, how to avoid it, and the potential consequences if it is accessed. And I agree the government and the education system should have a role in doing so.
      That is the key point being made here… why is it not possible to discuss this without people jumping to ridiculous moralising tones…

    • marley says:

      11:28am | 04/10/12

      No one is saying that kids shouldn’t be educated.  What people are saying is that it is not the role of government to protect adults from themselves.

    • TheRealDave says:

      09:57am | 04/10/12

      Child Pornography is wrong. Morally, legally and ethically wrong. End of story. No excuses. You know it, I know it and this arsehole knew it. Anyone with a half functioning brain knows it. Any alleged adult in our modern society who has had a modern education knows it. There are no ‘mitigating circumstances’. There is no responsibility or onus on anyone else other than the scumbag perpetrator of this crime - Andrew Muirhead.

      Sadly, they’ll throw him in with a bunch of other protected rockspiders and swap ‘war stories’ and fuel each others fantasies.

      Whats the recidivism rate of convicted paedophiles/child molesters by the way?

    • Psy-Op GanganStyle says:

      10:35am | 04/10/12

      Terry Martin sure was a big fat distraction, a big fat Tuna lure, and lets not forget Bill Henson either for the Sydney latte heads

 

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