Europe 1 with AFP // Photo credit: Laure Boyer / Hans Lucas / Hans Lucas via AFP 16:36 p.m., August 24, 2023

The Minister Delegate for Digital Jean-Noël Barrot has "seized the prosecutor of the Republic" about the pedophile proposals reported in recent days on the site Rencontre Ados, he announced Thursday on franceinfo TV. In the aftermath, Google removed the app from its Play Store application store, the ministry said.

"Faced with the reports that have multiplied in recent weeks, I have seized the public prosecutor on particular situations that translate sexual proposals by adults to minors, who are punishable by two years in prison," said Jean-Noël Barrot, Minister Delegate for Digital.

"Those who engage in these criminal behaviors can be found and can be convicted," he insisted. "I have contacted the site, with which I will exchange today to improve its cooperation with the police and justice authorities."

129 reports in one day

The Pharos website, the platform of the Ministry of the Interior where illegal content can be reported, has received 497 reports concerning Rencontre Ados since 2009, with a very large influx in the last two days: 129 reports were received Wednesday, we learned from police sources. In recent days, relaying reports from parents, the press has noted many examples of paedophile proposals on the Belgian site, free, which targets "young people from 13 to 25 years old" and has existed for nearly 18 years.

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"The position of the police is to say that the site cannot be banned because it is not illegal as such, so the only way to clean it up is to purge it from all accounts that have committed offences," commented to AFP Justine Atlan, director general of the association e-Enfance, who responds to 3018, National number for victims of digital violence.

For her, the offer of the site nevertheless remains "problematic": "it offers romantic meetings in an age group that mixes minors under 15 years and young adults, without compartmentalization".

Paedocriminals widely on social networks

In France, since the summer of 2022, a law plans to require sites to obtain parental permission so that children under 15 can register. The government hopes that the decree implementing this law will be published "in the first half of 2024", according to the Ministry of Children.

Pedophiles make extensive use of social media. Instagram, a subsidiary of Meta, is the main platform used by child criminal networks to sell content showing sexual assaults on minors, according to a report by Stanford University and the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published in June 2023.

Instagram's algorithms and content recommendations make it easier to sell child pornography, the researchers point out. According to the WSJ, a simple search with keywords leads to accounts that offer this content. Contacted by AFP, Meta replied that it "works hard to fight against this scourge and rid our platforms of it".

The new European DSA (Digital Services Act) regulation, which applies from Friday to large platforms, should improve the flagging of illegal content and push platforms to remove them quickly. But the principle remains that platforms are not responsible for their content if they are not aware of it.