Staying safe online: a better internet for children

Source: A. (Andrus) Ansip i, published on Tuesday, February 7 2017.

I often say that the digital world offers endless opportunities. But it also comes with challenges and risks. As technology evolves, so do the potential online dangers.

Children and young people are growing up in an environment where technology is an integral part of their lives. They spend far more time online than ever before.

Did you know that in Europe, 22% of 9-10 year-olds and 53% of 11-12 year-olds use social media? Or that watching videos is one of the first things that young children do on the internet?

They might not always be aware of the harm that could come their way, or know how to deal with it.

The online environment can be very attractive. It can also contain some very real dangers, which is why we have to stay vigilant to protect our young people.

It can easily turn into a frightening place why they may be exposed to violent or disturbing content, strong language or hate speech or become victims of cyber-bullying, or sexual harassment.

Awareness of the risks is so important, for both parents and minors.

This is the aim of Safer Internet Day (SID), celebrated today around the world, where millions of children, parents, teachers and policymakers are exploring how to stay safe online.

In an increasingly digital world, holding an international campaign every year to highlight the dangers is not a luxury. It is a necessity.

Just one more statistic to stress the point: a survey carried out in the UK for SID in 2016 showed that in the previous year, 82% of teenagers saw something hateful on the internet: defined as "offensive, mean or threatening behaviour targeted at or about someone based on their race, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation or transgender identity."

Safer Internet Day - a change for 2017

The SID campaign began back as 2004, in 14 countries - 13 EU countries and Australia.

Since then, it has gone truly global: in 2016, SID was celebrated in more than 120 countries, with at least 21,000 schools and 19.5 million people involved in various events across Europe alone.


While SID takes place every year with a different theme, this time it is a little different.

The European Commission has teamed up with tech and telecom companies, broadcasters, non-profit organisations and UNICEF with a self-regulatory initiative to curb harmful content, harmful conduct and harmful contact online - like cyberbullying, sexual extortion and exposure to violent content.

It is called the Alliance to Better Protect Minors Online. Within the next three months, each signatory company will announce its commitments to improve online safety.

Briefly, the Alliance aims to promote enhanced use of parental tools and content classification; intensify cooperation and sharing of best practices between everyone who has signed up; scale up awareness-raising and to promote and increase access to positive, educational and diversified online content.

I am pleased to see this self-regulation taking place, in line with our Better Internet for Kids strategy and following the European Commission's call to action in 2016.

It also ties in with the review of EU rules for audio-visual media services under the Digital Single Market plan, and the code of conduct on illegal online hate speech signed by IT companies and the Commission last year.

We know from experience that these initiatives can work. They can make the tech industry more responsive and flexible in addressing safety challenges.

This year's SID theme is: "Be the change: Unite for a better internet’. I think that applies whether we are children and young people, parents and carers, teachers or social workers, industrialists or politicians.

We can all help - because creating a better internet for children depends on everyone.

I wish every success to the newly-founded Alliance as well as to this year's SID events around the world. Another blog soon.