War in the time of social media: the Guarantor for the protection of children

Ukrainian war childrenThe war in Ukraine confirms the old adage of a great Athenian playwright of the fifth century BC. We are talking about Aeschylus. The author states that during an armed conflict the first great victim is the truth. And how can you blame him? It is difficult to understand what the real trend of hostilities is.

And yet, as Francesca Mannocchi claims, sent to the Ukrainian front on behalf of La7 “the images of devastation as well as the words of suffering people are the only balm of truth”. A position, that of the reporter, which however – although acceptable – does not change one iota the smoke screen that hangs over reality. Often the images of martyred civilians – especially the youngest ones – are used for propaganda purposes. We need to dwell on this topic for a moment.

It is evident that there is an invading army and an invaded country. This premise is mandatory and makes all the difference in the world. On the other hand, it is equally evident that there is an Atlanticist propaganda that opposes that of the Kremlin (made mostly of lunar distortions and fake news). Journalists have often exploited suffering without asking too many questions about the opportunity to disseminate certain images. It is no coincidence that we speak, and with some knowledge of the facts, of the pornography of pain.

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The horror of war in the time of social media

It will be that the war in Ukraine is perceived with greater emotion precisely because it is a conflict that is being fought in the heart of Europe, it will be that the war in the time of social media opens up dystopian perspectives on the perception of the obscene, but there is work to be done a general premise. Digitization has made the horrors of weapons spectacular for years. And there are countless testimonies from journalists – more or less direct – who almost “elbow” each other to get to the scene of a crime first and immortalize the bodies devastated by mortar rounds. Shots promptly placed on the front page the next day.

Obviously, the argument lends itself to multiple interpretations. On the one hand there are those who argue that in wartime there should be no limits, that it is right to show each image and then leave the appropriate considerations to the viewer. Following this line, there are those who corroborate the concept by borrowing a news story.

The first days of the conflict in Ukraine: a poor civilian on the run is unable to contact his family and discovers, thanks to some photos posted on social media, that his loved ones were killed in an armed raid. He recognized the lifeless bodies. And it’s hard to believe that the survivor’s first emotions were related to a violation of the right to privacy. Here, in this sense, however cruel it may be, social networks have had a social role. They helped to extinguish the vain hopes of the man who was looking at his cell phone hoping for a ring. A ring that, however, would never come…

On the other hand, the Guarantor for the protection of personal data intervened with extreme rigor, arguing arguments of the opposite sign. The authority has made a very heartfelt appeal to the Italian media. All to protect correct information. But let’s take a step back.

Journalists are already bound by rules (rules that anticipate the provisions of the GDPR and from new privacy code) that protect minors. We are talking about the Card of Treviso, a collection of rules of a deontological nature which establish the rules on the handling of information about minors. In truth, the Charter has been reworked several times and adapted to the changing needs of society, a society that today – precisely because of digitization – is profoundly different from that of 30 years ago.

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The Treviso Charter and the deontological rules for the protection of minors

In short, the Charter provides for the prohibition of the publication of images that can identify minors or which – more generally – can create prejudices to their dignity and confidentiality. Furthermore, this set of rules provides for the prohibition of the use of images of minors for sensational purposes (the same ones that can, in principle, exploit the person for editorial needs). Therefore, any prejudicial publication that polarizes attention on the identity of the minor is prohibited.

Concepts, these, corroborated by the Guarantor himself. On the other hand, the publication of images of the minor is considered admissible if they portray him in calm situations, confirming a substantial well-being (provided there are contextual interests linked to the right to report). For example, the publication of photos of disabled minors participating in sports events is not prohibited. And it is clear, in the light of these premises, that reasoning on the horror of war, the idea of ​​offering the reader the death of a minor who tries, in vain, to escape from enemy fire is not admissible.

L’Article 7 of the Code of Conduct for Journalists states that “the minor’s right to privacy must always be considered as primary with respect to the right to criticize and report”. The rule therefore follows a principle of primacy of the child’s interest over the right to report. The Code refers its own regulation to the aforementioned Card of Treviso.

Lintervention of the Guarantor for the protection of martyred minors in Ukraine

With the proliferation of tragic images, many of which depicting children, the Privacy Guarantor intervened by reiterating the limits imposed on printed paper when it comes to children.

It is an appeal that is probably the summation of the concepts analyzed in the course of this investigation. In particular, the Guarantor requests that the dissemination of photographs depicting “the desperate faces of children on television, in newspapers and on social networks”i.e. avoiding bringing the little ones into the war – a second time – into the digital dimension.

This is the warning that the Guarantor for the protection of personal data addresses to the media, to the large content sharing platforms and to each user of social networks. “The image of the child as well as any personal data concerning him – recalls the Authority – in reality, it should enter the media system only when this is indispensable or, even better, only when its publication is in the child’s interest”.

The authority also dwells on the consequences of a rash publication, clarifying that, otherwise, those photographs and data, in the digital dimension, will persecute those children forever and, perhaps, in many cases will expose them to discriminatory consequences of a social, cultural , religious or political of any kind, consequences, perhaps, today, in many cases even unpredictable. And, certainly, those images will end up in the hands of algorithms of all kinds for the most diverse reasons.

In order to avoid further pain, the Guarantor calls on all the means of mass communication, even in the indispensable work of bearing witness to the tragic effects of war, for greater protection of minors.


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War in the time of social media: the Guarantor for the protection of children