Church of England votes to support age verification for online pornography

·3-min read
(PA) (PA Wire)
(PA) (PA Wire)

The Church of England General Synod has voted in favour of a motion to urge the Government to bring in age verification for access to online pornography.

The Synod, the national assembly of the Church of England, voted almost unanimously on the motion, with 263 members voting for the move, only two voting against, and three abstaining.

The motion included three elements; that the Synod acknowledges that children and young people are suffering “grave harm” from online pornography, to recommend more social and educational programmes to raise awareness of the harms of pornography, and to ask the Government to secure the passage of legislation requiring age verification for access to online pornography.

The Synod voted in favour of urging the Government to introduce age restriction to online pornography (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)
The Synod voted in favour of urging the Government to introduce age restriction to online pornography (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)

The Reverend Jo Winn-Smith, who brought the motion, introduced a debate on it, saying age verification “ought to be a no brainer”.

She said: “The internet has capacity for great good; inspiring the imagination, knowledge sharing, and friendship building. yet it is also a place where the darker side of life is prevalent.”

Ms Winn-Smith added: “The Government is playing catch up at present and pressure needs to maintained on them to ensure these protections are enacted.”

In April, proposals for an Online Safety Bill, which will require pornography websites to use age verification technology to stop children from accessing the material on their sites, cleared their first Commons hurdle, with MPs giving the Bill an unopposed second reading.

It will undergo further scrutiny at a later stage, with amendments tabled for consideration.

The legislation is expected to force the biggest operators, such as Meta – formerly Facebook – and Google, to abide by a duty of care to users, overseen by Ofcom as the new regulator for the sector.

Ms Winn-Smith also argued experts had shown online pornography is “increasingly extreme and violent, misogynistic, objectifying women, normalising non-consent and coercion, as well as promoting unrealistic attitudes towards sex and body image”.

Other members of the Synod gave speeches about the damaging effects of pornography on young people and children, but also adults.

Farther Stephen Maxwell, a Greek Orthodox priest, urged the Synod to “fight this devil in our midst”.

He said: “30 years ago I very seldom had a confession that was about pornography. Now this does not only affect men, it also affects women, there are women who look at pornography.

“But now it isn’t ever a confession, but it is most, and I hear hundreds, many hundreds of confessions every year.

“This is a disaster, it is a disaster not just for children, it is a disaster for middle aged people, even old aged people.”

The Reverend Fiona Jack, said her market research business had conducted research on behalf of a well-known search engine and video platform company on the topic of age verification.

She argued age verification was “very, very important” but that people must “think very carefully about how we do this”.

She said: “We need to work out how age verification can be done. One of the things we actually did as part of this piece of research was we looked at different methods but when I tell you about some of them they’re very, very intrusive.

“So for example we explored tracking the other websites that people had visited to check their age, we also talked about biometric data- so basically you can tell people’s age from their facial features and the way they look, their appearance and so on.

“I find these personally to be very, very intrusive and so I wholeheartedly support this motion but I think more thought is needed about the extent of it, tis not just pornography, its violence and horror as well, that was also mentioned, and we need to think very thoroughly and carefully about how age verification is done.”

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