On 9 February 2016, over 100 countries will celebrate Safer Internet Day #SID2016 to encourage the safe and responsible use of online technology, particularly among children and young people. This year’s theme, ‘Play your part for a better Internet’, highlights the role that we all have to play in ensuring the Net is a safe space for children to play and learn.
The Internet is an indispensable educational and social tool for children, with digital literacy fast becoming a necessary skill in the information society. However, though an unprecedented level of services and information is available online, we need to recognize and mitigate against the dangers that the online world can pose for children. We must constantly strive to create an online environment that encourages positive creativity, empowerment and participation while ensuring the safe and secure use of the Internet by those most vulnerable.
More and more children are coming online and at an increasingly young age, with 53 per cent of children aged 3-4 years (in the UK) using a tablet to go online. Some markets are reaching saturation, with nearly 100 per cent Internet penetration among children in northern Europe.
Moreover, 30 per cent of the world’s youth are now classified as ‘digital natives’, defined as those aged 15-24 with five or more years of experience online. A full 60 per cent of global youth will be classed as digital natives by 2018.
This increased access to the Internet means it’s ever more important to be aware of, and guard against, the potential dangers faced by young people online, whether the risk comes from grooming, online bullying, being exposed to inappropriate sexual content or the misuse and theft of personal data.
With the borderless nature of the Internet, effective safeguarding of children online requires a global, coordinated response. ITU’s Child Online Protection Initiative (COP) is an international collaborative network that promotes online safety of children around the world. ITU recently released updated COP guidelines for children, and for parents, guardians and educators. These guidelines help to foster and develop responsible ‘digital citizenship’ among young people – providing a safer online environment for children by recognizing and dealing with online hazards, building safe spaces and communities, and understanding how to manage personal information.
ITU’s other key resource is the 2016 ‘SMART’ COP guidelines which aims to empower children to combat and guard against cyber threats themselves with five key principles:
S – Set your limits
Though studies have shown that children are more aware of how to protect themselves online through the use of privacy settings – with 55 per cent of 11-13 year olds and 79 per cent of 14-16 year olds in the EU saying that they can change their social network privacy settings – risks still remain. Beware of sharing personal information, particularly on social networks.
M – Meeting online friends offline
An estimated 30 per cent of teenagers have offline, face-to-face meetings with people that they met online. As identities can be obscured online, always take someone else with you that you know and trust (such as a parent or guardian) to stay safe.
A – Accepting invitations/friendships
It is not wise to accept requests by strangers who want to be included in your contact list and see your profile. There’s nothing wrong with declining invitations that you are not sure about.
R – React
Protect yourself from upsetting or distressing content. If you see something that bothers you, talk to your parents or someone you trust.
T – Tell someone about your concerns
Report inappropriate content and behaviour to the host of the website or police.
In addition to these guidelines, children should be aware of their online rights, and act appropriately and respectfully online. Distinguished British filmmaker Baroness Beeban Kidron, whose most recent feature-length documentary, InRealLife (2013), documents British teenagers’ relationship with the Internet, is ITU’s sponsored speaker at the TEDxPlaceDesNations event on 11 February 2016, where she will state the case for a new set of international online rights for young people. I encourage you to watch her via webcast live from 3pm CET here.
In the meantime, let’s celebrate Safer Internet Day by promoting safe online behaviours so we can build trust in ICTs and ensure that their incredible positive potential can be realized for future generations.
Houlin Zhao (@) was elected 19th Secretary-General of the ITU at the Busan Plenipotentiary Conference in October 2014. He took up his post on 1 January, 2015.Prior to his election, he served two terms of office as ITU Deputy Secretary-General (2007-2014), as well as two terms as elected Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (1999-2006). He is committed to further streamlining ITU’s efficiency, to strengthening its membership base through greater involvement of the academic community and of small- and medium-sized enterprises, and to broadening multistakeholder participation in ITU’s work. He is married with one son and two grandchildren.