Monica Doumit: Cashing in on tragedy

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A worker sanitizes Ponte della Paglia bridge on St. Mark’s Square as a measure to fight against the coronavirus in Venice, Italy, March 12, 2020. (CNS photo/Manuel Silvestri, Reuters) See CARDINAL-TURKSON-COVID-19 March 12, 2020.

In Italy, one health risk is being replaced with another

Imagine that in a few weeks’ time, we all go into lock down because of COVID-19.  With toilet paper, hand sanitiser and similar supplies still the hottest item on the shelves, and with people stuck inside their homes, the purchasing of other products has become de-prioritised.

But then, there is an announcement that a certain tobacco company will provide free cigarettes for a month to all those who are quarantined inside their homes.  The cigarettes, it says, is to help ease the stress of the outbreak, without requiring the self-isolators (who are probably already facing financial pressure due to a lack of work) to incur the cost that a cigarette habit would usually entail.

On the one hand, it looks like a generous offer; a company foregoing its profits in a time of crisis to those who might not be able to afford their products.  But on the other, more cynical side, it looks quite devious; a company giving to people who are desperate and anxious and bored an addictive drug for a month, with the knowledge that it will, at least in some instances, create enough new addicts that they will recoup their loss and then some going forward.

It sounds awful, right?  It is happening, but not with cigarettes, but with pornography.

Blatant profiteering from tragedy

Pornography giant PornHub has announced that it will provide free access to its premium content to anyone in Italy throughout March, without them having to use a credit card to sign up.  The subscription will be gifted to Italian residents to help get them through the next few weeks.  If, during that time, these bored Italian residents become addicted enough to the content, then they will be able to sign up for the Italian-equivalent of US$10 per month.

The best outcome for PornHub is that it attracts a whole new demographic of customers, and this ‘free gift’ marketed as being given in solidarity with Italy will end up making them even more money, at the expense of those who are already in a vulnerable position.

“I shouldn’t be shocked, it’s consistent with their business model”

I know I shouldn’t be surprised when a pornography company sinks to new lows, but I must admit that I was shocked at such a blatant and unconscionable example of capitalising on death and tragedy.

With deaths in Italy exceeding a thousand, most of them elderly, hospitals overwhelmed and an economy in crisis, you would think that a multi-billion dollar industry could maybe resist the temptation to make money off those who are suffering.

But that’s not how the pornography industry, and PornHub in particular, works.

As was recently highlighted by the Catholic Weekly, PornHub has recently been embroiled in a sex trafficking and child rape scandal, with a 15 year old girl who had been missing for a year being found on the site, with 58 videos of her sexual abuse uploaded for viewing.  When questioned about the matter, PornHub initially replied that she was a “verified” user who was able to upload her own content.

But the site doesn’t verify its users or screen its content for criminal activity.  With more than six million videos uploaded each year, being viewed during 42 billion visits to the site, it would be impossible.  Instead, they ignore it, meaning that not only do they provide an unfiltered platform for these kinds of crimes to be showcased as ‘entertainment,’ they profit from it.

So, I shouldn’t be shocked that PornHub is looking to make money from the COVID-19 crisis; it’s consistent with their business model.

In this situation, we would like to think that a government concerned about the health of its citizens should put an end to such marketing tricks immediately and block the IP address for PornHub and its associated sites in Italy, so that no one will be able to access the site at all.  It’s unlikely the government will do such a thing.

What can we do about it?

This situation should call us to two actions, I think.

The first is that we should be wary ourselves of those companies trying to profit from this crisis, and avoid them where possible so as not to reward their bad behaviour.

And secondly, we should keep the people of Italy in our prayers.  As public Masses have been banned, and access to the Sacrament of Confession likely limited, their “spiritual immune system” will be compromised against this attack which comes straight from the depths of hell.  Let’s pray that they will be given the graces to resist replacing one risk to their health with another.

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