New Utah media blitz aims to help parents protect their kids against digital pornography

The privately-funded campaign, set to run through Dec. 1, features billboards, radio spots and a website aimed at shielding children from internet and smartphone porn.

A new Utah campaign announced Thursday will target pornography in the name of protecting children, with billboards, radio spots and a new website aimed at raising awareness and providing online filtering tools to parents.

The Safe Internet for Utah Kids campaign, running through Dec. 1, is being privately funded by Sorenson Legacy Foundation and supported by groups including the socially conservative Utah Eagle Forum, Sutherland Institute and Family Watch International, as well as the Utah Republican Party and several prominent elected leaders.

In an event at the Utah Capitol to launch the media blitz, state Rep. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, likened indecent materials on the web to ongoing problems with the homeless on some downtown Salt Lake City streets, now being addressed by Operation Rio Grande.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could collaborate on trying to protect our children from some of the filth we know as pornography,” said Weiler.

He was joined by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who urged parents to understand the technology their children use — and how it could be used against them. Learning about Instagram, Snapchat and other social media platforms could help start a healthy conversation about using digital media responsibly and the dangers children could face, he said.

“If the kids use it,” Reyes warned, “so do the predators.”

In June and July alone, Reyes said, the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force investigated more than 200 cases involving child pornography, 80 enticement cases — in which adults seek to entice minors into sexual activity over the internet or other platforms — and made 22 arrests.

Campaign manager Jennifer Brown said accessibility to pornography on the internet and smartphones has made children more vulnerable than ever and educating parents will help protect kids’ rights to their youth.

“I am so sorry for children who do not have the age of innocence because [pornography] does impact the way they develop,” Brown said.

The campaign’s website — www.safeinternetforkids.com — seeks to inform Utahns about the dangers of viewing porn in adolescence and how to keep children safe against so-called “sextortion” — a form of exploitation using the threat of releasing sexual images or information as coercion.

The website also serves as a clearinghouse for internet and mobile apps that filter and block adult content on cellphones and browsers.

In addition to educating parents and kids, backers of Safe Internet for Utah Kids also hope to use the website to gather up to 5,000 signatures for a letter of support and encouragement to the Utah Legislature, to be delivered when lawmakers convene in January.

“We acknowledge the detrimental effect this material has on physiological and emotional brain development,” the letter reads in part. “Our children are entitled to special protections due to their inherent differences from adults.”

Weiler, who successfully sponsored a 2016 resolution declaring pornography “a public health crisis,” said Thursday he hasn’t agreed to sponsor specific internet safety or porn legislation for the upcoming session.