Concerns about the internet are to be raised by Cheshire’s Roman Catholic bishop.
The Rt Rev Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury, believes the web should be subjected to the same rigorous standards of regulation as the press to prevent the corruption of the young and the damaging spread of so-called ‘fake news’.
In a sermon given at Midnight Mass in Shrewsbury Cathedral, the bishop said that the ‘good news of Christmas’ stands in contrast to the falsehoods that can sometimes characterise social media.
He repeated the concerns of Pope Francis that there is something sinister about the ease with which such falsehoods are transmitted through universal and unregulated social media and how they invariably ‘set people one against another’.
As social communications reshape society with ‘an endless flow of words and images’, the ‘viral and volatile’ digital world is becoming a place where people are being ‘threatened, exploited, addicted and misled’, the bishop said.
He noted that none of the structures or regulatory safeguards that have evolved to ensure justice, decency and the dissemination of the truth in the press and other mainstream media exist within social media and online communications.
As a result serious online abuses, including ‘grave threats to the innocence of children’, are at present allowed to go largely ‘unchecked and unchallenged’.
Bishop Davies suggested that the introduction of a regulatory framework is required to eliminate the damaging effects of the internet and to place social communications fully at the service of the common good of society.
Bishop Davies said: “Christmas might be a time for us to consider the news environment that is now shaping our society in the endless flow of words and images of the digital world.
“The internet, which has a great potential for uniting and informing, can now be a place where people are threatened, exploited, addicted and misled.
“Pope Francis has reflected on the darkness found in this digital world that has become a place where fake news and misinformation, contemporary expressions for telling lies, can run unchecked and unchallenged.
“The centuries of experience and self regulation that have underpinned a free press are absent from this viral and volatile world on which people increasingly rely for news and to form judgments.
“Pope Francis notes there is something sinister about fake news which is invariably bad news that seeks to set people one against another.”
The bishop added: “As a society we have need to reflect how this digital world can be brought to serve the common good, protect the innocence of children and fulfil the duty of serving truth and avoiding falsehood in sharing news.....each of us needs to act, conscious of how the digital media forms part of our daily environment and especially that of the young.
“We need to take control of the messages and images which flow into our homes and establish the disciplines which will enable digital technology to serve what is good.”
Bishop Davies also argues that ‘used well, the internet connects and brings us closer one to another’.