VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis called Thursday for Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google and other tech companies to urgently take measures to remove child porn from the web and prevent children from accessing pornography online.
Francis told a Vatican conference of religious leaders and high-tech representatives that it’s no longer acceptable to merely follow the law in monitoring online content, because technology is fast outpacing regulation.
He said tech and computer software companies should assume a moral responsibility to protect young people from what he said were the ruinous effects of pornography on their emotional and sexual development.
“There is a need to ensure that investors and managers remain accountable, so that the good of minors and society is not sacrificed to profit,” he said.
Francis was addressing participants at the conference “Promoting Digital Child Dignity,” which follows on a 2017 conference hosted by the Jesuit university in Rome and a 2018 meeting in Abu Dhabi.
Francis cited obligatory age verification technology and artificial intelligence to eliminate criminal porn from the web as two concrete measures high tech companies and software-makers could take to protect children.
The Vatican has sought to raise awareness about protecting children online as part of its response to the Catholic Church’s dreadful record with clergy sexual abuse. The issue has hit close to home for Francis, after one of his diplomats was sentenced to five years in prison by a Vatican court for viewing child pornography, and one of his own Argentine bishops was placed under investigation by the church after porn was found on his cellphone.
The two-day conference at the Vatican featured speakers from Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Paramount Pictures, U.N. and EU officials, as well as the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians and the grand imam of the Al-Azhar university in Cairo, the seat of Sunni learning. Francis’ secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, was to close out the conference on Friday, in an indication of the importance the Vatican placed on it.
In his remarks, Francis said technology has obvious benefits for children, but also poses risks and negative effects that often aren’t apparent until it is too late to remedy them.
He indirectly dismissed claims by Facebook and other social media companies that they are merely “platforms” for others to share content.
“It is now clear that they cannot consider themselves completely unaccountable vis-a-vis the services they provide for their customers,” he said. “So I make an urgent appeal to them to assume their responsibility toward minors, their integrity and their future.”