Pope: Internet is good, but we need to defend children from violence and pornography

Receiving participants at the "Promoting Digital Child Dignity - From Concept to Action" Conference, Francis says that tech companies must take responsibility and, while respecting privacy in general, ensure restrictions for "net surfers".

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Tech companies that provide internet services, while respecting privacy in general, must take on responsibility and allow the age of those who "surf" the net to be controlled. These are two of the indications indicated by Pope Francis to combat the consequences that images of violence and pornography on the web have on young people.

Francis addressed the subject today, receiving about eighty participants at the convention "Promoting Digital Child Dignity - From Concept to Action" which takes place today and tomorrow in the Vatican.

Francis first of all pointed out that "the issue of the effective protection of the dignity of minors in the digital world " calls for cooperation on the part of all: experts in science and technology, entrepreneurs and economists, legislators, politicians and security agents, educators and psychologists, and, not least, religious and moral leaders".

"The Catholic Church - he added - has become profoundly aware of the gravity and effects of the sexual abuse of minors, the suffering it causes, and the urgent need to heal wounds, combat such crimes and establish effective means of prevention. For this reason, the Church senses the duty to approach these issues with a long-term vision".

Then addressing one of the crucial themes of the conference: that of the relationship between the protection of freedom of expression and privacy with increasingly sophisticated forms of message encryption, which make it impossible to monitor all, the Pope asked for "a fitting balance must be found between the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and the interests of society, so as to ensure that digital media are not used to perpetrate criminal activities against minors".

At the beginning, to promote the development of the Internet, Francis pointed out, the companies that provide the services were considered "mere suppliers of technological platforms", not responsible neither legally nor morally for their use. But now the huge potential of digital tools is clear and "we often first see the most fascinating and positive aspects (which fortunately are not lacking)". so too the negative consequences. " The spread of images of abuse or the exploitation of minors is increasing exponentially, involving ever more serious and violent forms of abuse and ever younger children.

The dramatic growth of pornography in the digital world is, in itself, most serious, the fruit of a general loss of the sense of human dignity; frequently it is linked to human trafficking. What makes this phenomenon even more disturbing is the fact that this material is widely accessible even to minors via the internet, especially through mobile devices. The majority of scientific studies have highlighted the profound impact of pornography on the thinking and behaviour of children. It will surely have lifelong effects on them, in the form of grave addiction, violent behaviour and deeply troubled emotional and sexual relationships”.

Faced with this reality, the Pope maintains, first of all, the authorities must be able to intervene effectively, in full respect of the rule of law and due process, to counteract the criminal activities that harm minors. Then, secondly, the big companies in the sector that easily overcome the frontiers between the states cannot "consider themselves completely extraneous to the use of the tools they put in the hands of their customers". " So I make an urgent appeal to them to assume their responsibility towards minors, their integrity and their future. It will not be possible to guarantee the safety of minors in the digital world without the full involvement of companies in this sector and without a full awareness of the moral and social repercussions of their management and functioning. Such companies are bound not only to respect the law, but also to be concerned with the direction taken by the technological and social developments which they produce and promote, since such developments are far ahead of the laws that would seek to regulate them".

But "it is not enough to understand, we must act". Referring to the theme of the conference, "From concept to action", the Pope wants " The moral condemnation of the harm inflicted on minors through the misuse of new digital technologies needs urgently to be translated into concrete initiatives”.

Such as, for example, the Australian "Safety by Design" for which the responsibility for safety does not only fall on the customer, but also on those who design and supply products and the commitment of legislators in some countries because the companies that allow navigation through mobile devices, are obliged to verify the age of the customers. According to reliable studies, he pointed out, the average age of first access to pornography is about 11 and tends to fall even further. "This is not acceptable in any way." The industry must, therefore, collaborate with parents and the identification of the age should not therefore be considered as a violation of the right to privacy but a premise for the effective protection of the child.