Pope Francis has held Internet companies accountable for fighting child pornography. The latter cannot pretend that they are not responsible for the tools they put into the hands of their customers.
The pope told participants at an international conference on child protection Thursday at the Vatican. With the new technology, he said, they had already amassed vast sums of money.
Mandatory age assessment for mobile surfing
Internet operators are not only obliged to comply with the law, but are also responsible for the technological and social development that they themselves are advancing, Francis said. Among other things, the pope spoke out in favor of introducing mandatory age verification by law for browsing on mobile devices.
The head of the church justified this by pointing out that minors primarily use smartphones to access the Internet; thus, filter functions on computers remain ineffective in protecting children and young people from harmful content. According to studies, children on average first have access to pornographic content at age eleven. This is unacceptable under any circumstances.
There are "enormous economic interests" behind the digital development. It is necessary to work towards more responsibility from investors and operators, he said. The welfare of minors and society should not be sacrificed for profit, the pope said.
Weighing freedom of expression against societal interest
Francis went on to call for a balance between freedom of expression and society's interest in ensuring that the Internet is not used for criminal activities and activities harmful to minors. The positive potential of the new technology would be countered by possible negative consequences.
Specifically, he mentioned human trafficking, the organization of terrorist activities, the spread of hatred and extremism, as well as disinformation and abuse of minors. The authorities must be given the legal and operational means to act against it within the framework of the rule of law, the pope said.
Francis spoke at a congress on the protection of children's dignity in digital media. According to Vatican sources, the two-day event was attended by some 80 representatives of international organizations, media and protection associations, as well as politicians and religious leaders.
Among the guests, according to the program, were the interior minister of the United Arab Emirates, Saif Bin Zayed al Nahyan, Queen Silvia of Sweden, Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayyeb of Cairo and the representative of the UN Secretary-General against violence against children, Najat Maalla M'jid.