As Church’s expands online footprint during virus, so does porn

As Church’s expands online footprint during virus, so does porn

As Church’s expands online footprint during virus, so does porn

This illustration shows a laptop user browsing the internet. (Credit: Yui Mok/PA Images via Reuters via CNS.)

Amid the global coronavirus outbreak, the Catholic Church has expanded its digital footprint through online Masses and prayers, but at the same time the porn industry has also sought to increase its new stay-at-home audience, something a former Vatican spokesman criticized as immoral and derogatory toward women.

ROME – Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus first spurred the suspension of public Masses, the Catholic Church has been quick to make its liturgies go digital, with numerous parishes and individual priests almost overnight setting up a livestream so parishioners still have access to the Mass, albeit virtually.

For the Catholic Church, the coronavirus has undoubtably provided both the impetus and the necessity to finally thrust itself full-on into the digital world, and the crisis could change the way the Church does ministry in the future, ushering in all sorts of new online initiatives.

But it’s not just the Church, and it’s not all good. The porn industry has also moved to solidify its digital foothold, with one major company offering free access to premium services in countries hardest hit by the virus.

A former Vatican spokesman and one of the Church’s most prominent public figures is warning that porn is demeaning to women, dangerous to moral health, and increasing use may also mean increased access to child pornograph.

Earlier this month one of the porn industry’s leading trade organizations, the Free Speech Coalition (FSC) adult film lobbying group, asked that production of new content in the United States and Canada be halted until March 31 in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus. And with the number of U.S. cases increasing, it’s likely that deadline will be extended.

A March 16 statement from the FSC asked that “all members of the adult industry stay home as much as possible, leaving the house only for necessities,” adding, “We all must do our part to flatten the growth curve of this global pandemic.”

Despite the drop in production, the industry’s leading website, Pornhub, on March 12 announced that given Italy’s strict nationwide lockdown, they would be offering people living in the country free access to its premium service until April 3. They have since extended this offer to France and Spain.

This service includes high-speed downloads, no ads, faster streaming, increased video quality and “discreet billing,” plus anytime cancellation.

In 2019 Pornhub was used roughly 42 billion times and boasted of 115 million daily visitors. Italy last year ranked seventh in Pornhub’s top 20 countries in terms of traffic, with the U.S., the U.K. and Japan occupying the first three slots.

Italy has recently become the country with the highest number of coronavirus fatalities. As of Sunday evening, the country had reported 5,476 deaths and a total of 59,138 cases, with 46,638 people currently having tested positive for the virus, meaning the country’s strict quarantine likely won’t be over any time soon.

Pornhub also announced that they would be donating their March revenue to help Italy during the coronavirus outbreak. According to the company, their numbers spiked after the offer of free premium content, and as of March 17 were up 11.6 percent.

Traffic for porn sites generally is expected to continue to rise as the outbreak continues and thousands of people find themselves home all day, and with free access, much of this traffic will come from Italy.

Considering these projections, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, a former Vatican spokesman, criticized Pornhub’s offer, saying the free access “is obviously a trap leading to a greater psychological and economic power in the future.”

“The fact that Pornhub is seizing the opportunity of the pandemic and the greater time spent at home to widen its spread is not surprising at all,” he said, insisting that while the promise of donating funds to help stop the coronavirus outbreak can still be of benefit, the move is a company ploy to convince people that its activities are “socially acceptable and even useful.”

“This is instead to be denied and fought with every decision, (especially) in this time of pandemic,” he said, insisting that in its offer, Pornhub “takes advantage of one terrible evil to aggravate another.”

President of the Ratzinger Foundation and moderator for last year’s global summit on child protection, Lombardi said the current Pornhub advertising campaign serves as a reminder that while there are benefits to new technologies, “one must always be careful to combat the harms, risks and ambiguities present in the digital world.”

He praised digital services benefiting the fields of medicine and healthcare and applauded the creativity of priests who livestream Masses and prayers; teachers who are now continuing courses for students online, and community leaders organizing digital hangouts or other group events for young people.

“The regulations which invite or oblige people to stay at home in the time of the pandemic are greatly influencing lifestyle, one’s use of time and occupations of countless people in many countries of the world,” he said, adding that the duration of the quarantine will likely have lasting consequences both for individuals, and society.

Yet he also cautioned that just as the benefits of the technology and the internet are being amplified during the coronavirus pandemic, so are the risks, including heightened harmful or criminal activities, of which he said pornography is one.

Typically, pornography is a taboo subject in the Church that is difficult for some higher-ups to talk about.

However, Lombardi, calling the industry “a serious evil” that has damaging impacts on individuals and family relationships, cautioned that increased access to pornography also means a potential increase in access to child porn.

“We know well that the consumption of pornography continually evolves toward ever more extreme forms and involves ages that are increasingly younger, even children who are 10 years old,” he said.

Just last month Pornhub came under harsh scrutiny after a missing 15-year-old girl who had been missing for a year was found after her mother received a tip that her daughter had been featured in 58 videos depicting her rape and sexual abuse that had been uploaded to Ponhub’s website.

The girl’s trafficker and rapist was eventually spotted with her at a 7-Eleven through surveillance footage and arrested, but the episode caused enormous blowback, with many arguing that the company’s lenient age verification policies allow trafficking. Teen pornography is reportedly the most searched for category on the company’s website.

“We all know – and many scientific studies have confirmed – that even in adults pornography produces serious dependency, alters respectful relationships between men and women and has consequences in family life, even violent behavior and other behavioral disturbances,” Lombardi said.

In terms of viewership, he said these consequences “are even more serious, profound and lasting in minors who access pornography. And we know that it is very difficult to efficiently impede minors from accessing pornographic sites both from a technological and legal point of view.”

Lombardi said he is convinced that a society in which a “pornographic culture” is both accepted and diffused “will never be capable of combatting in a serious and radical way the forms of contempt and violence against women and in general toward the corporality of others, and – I add – also toward minors.”

“Rather, it is a society that educates more and more people incapable of this respect,” he said, insisting that this point is also very important during the coronavirus quarantines, when idle eyes are eager for distractions.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen


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