On June 3rd, the Christian-oriented tabloid Pulse.ng, based in Nigeria, published a story that grossly distorted a UNICEF discussion paper on the risks and benefits of children’s internet access, suggesting that the global agency is aiding and abetting pornography usage amongst children. The Pulse story rehashed an equally false May 13th report from the U.S. pro-life Christian think-tank Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam).
The Pulse article was shared and promoted by spiritual self-help author Danielle LaPorte to Instagram (256K followers) and Facebook (218K followers).
Laporte’s share extends a conspirituality theme that erupted in the summer of 2020. In the fall of 2020, the Oprah-boosted influencer invited her followers to contemplate issues exaggerated by the #savethechildren movement. #savethechildren served as the domesticated, “pastel” version of the QAnon global pedophilia conspiracy theory. In one September post, Laporte called child-trafficking a “pandemic” that is “not being talked about enough.” That post is now deleted. Laporte has disclaimed affinity with QAnon.
The title of the UNICEF paper is “Digital Age Assurance Tools and Children’s Rights Online across the Globe”. But the Pulse.ng clickbait headline reads “UNICEF report says blocking children from watching pornography violates their human rights.”
There is no text in the document that suggests this. One section does explain that parental controls and other safety filters can improve safety for younger users, but cautions they “may infringe children’s rights to access information and to freedom of expression where their Internet access is censored at an older age.”
Pulse.ng also falsely reported that “The UN agency added that asking for age verification to access pornography online may deny children access to “vital sexuality education.”
That section of the report referring to “vital sexuality education”, is pointedly not referring to children’s requests to access pornography, but about whether overly-broad definitions of pornography can be used to restrict access to sexual education. It states:
The term ‘pornography’ has many legal definitions within different jurisdictions, so it is not always clear across the literature that consistent definitions are being used.Top-ranked digital sexuality education media worldwide accessed by children include websites, apps and YouTube vloggers, most of which are in the English language and based in the US. Some of this content may be classified as ‘pornography’ in certain contexts: if it were age restricted, this could deny children access to vital sexuality education materials.
Finally, Pulse.ng falsely claimed that the UNICEF report “stressed that there is no conclusive evidence that children exposed to pornography are harmed in any way due to the exposure.”
The actual report, however, is simply conservative in its research assessment, stating:
There are several different kinds of risks and harms that have been linked to children’s exposure to pornography, but there is no consensus on the degree to which pornography is harmful to children. Prominent advocates point to research arguing that access to pornography at a young age is linked with poor mental health, sexism and objectification, sexual aggression and other negative outcomes. The evidence suggests that some children appear to be harmed by exposure to some kinds of pornography at least some of the time, but that the nature and extent of that harm vary.
The report goes on to note that boys are “more likely to experience greater exposure to pornography at an earlier age, and they are more likely to be exposed to violent or abusive images such as rape, whereas girls are more likely to be subject to involuntary or problematic exposure.”
Some researchers believe that the UNICEF report, which mainly focused on the culture, equality and logistics issues of online access for children, did not centre studies that link pornography exposure to negative outcomes. In response to the UNICEF report’s statement “there is no consensus on the degree to which pornography is harmful to children”, the Catholic-aligned National Centre on Sexual Exploitation, formed in 1962 as Morality in Media to challenge anti-obscenity laws — sent an open letter asking UNICEF to conduct a more thorough literature review. Since the open letter, UNICEF has unpublished the article, but it is archived on C-Fam’s site.
The Pulse.ng Facebook share of the misinformation article to 1.5M followers generated hundreds of comments, many expressing anti-LGBTQI bigotry, concerns about the coming of the Antichrist, and predicting an accelerated Second Coming of Jesus.
LaPorte’s share of the post shows the horseshoeing of New Age and Christian concerns towards each other through #savethechildren themes. Now tagged as #Protectchildren — the themes present a degraded world in which elites push the innocent into oppression. Only spiritual renewal can help. Commenters on Laporte’s Facebook post discuss “pure evil”, “spiritual warfare”, and opine that predators are running UNICEF.
“The intelligence of the heart KNOWS what morality is,” Laporte wrote in captions on Instagram and Facebook. “There’s no grey area. There’s Wisdom or there’s ignorance, Love or fear.”
In response to an email request for comment, LaPorte expressed thanks for being alerted to the distortions in the Pulse report. Her post has been deleted from Instagram, but remains active on Facebook.