Today, 9th February 2021, thousands of organisations around the world join “Together for a better internet” to celebrate what is this years 18th edition of Safer Internet Day (SID) -to raise awareness of children and young people’s online safety and wellbeing. Almost one year after the advent of the COVID-19 crisis and the changes it has brought about in our online habits, we review the new realities with regards to safety and well-being in the online sphere.
Safer Internet Day 2021 celebrates the amazing range of information and opportunities online, and its potential to inform, connect and inspire us, whilst also looking at how young people can separate fact from fiction.
The campaign focuses on how we can know what to trust online, supporting young people to question, challenge and change the online world. It will explore how influence, persuasion and manipulation can impact young people’s decisions, opinions and what they share online.
It will also look at the emotional impact navigating a misleading online world can have on young people and why it is important to create a supportive, critical and questioning culture online that encourages debate and discussion. We want to give young people the skills to support one another, and the strategies to spot and speak out against harmful and misleading content online.
Why does inaccurate content exist, where does it come from, and what’s the solution? We know that the issues of misinformation and ‘fake news’ do not solely affect young people, but that these issues do have a great impact on how young people feel about their time online.
Through Safer Internet Day 2021 we want to help equip young people with the skills they need to spot inaccurate content, which can sometimes be a complex task. Once young people feel more comfortable separating fact from fiction it is important that we then help them to take the next steps in helping to create an internet full of trustworthy and reliable information. The online world is a great source of information for young people and adults alike, and opportunities to research, learn new facts or skills, and even broaden viewpoints are extremely important to all internet users.
The internet is also an important way for young people to build positive relationships – to play, interact and share their lives with their peers. As they navigate these social spaces, they are constantly making decisions about who and what to trust online as they play together and socialise online.
Safer Internet Day gives young people the chance to build the skills they need to be able to make the best decisions as they navigate an online world where everything is not always as it seems.
Grasping the new realities of the digital environment
The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered wide-ranging transformations in the digital environment, both in terms of risks and opportunities. It has shown us first-hand that digital technologies are an excellent medium to enable the greatest number of citizens – especially children and young people – to find information, communicate, socialise, learn and play, often in ways that are not possible to the same extent in their non-digital lives.
Yet, with this overnight realisation that our societies are more digital than ever, came a growing awareness that most online tools and services are often not designed with the best interests of children and young people in mind. This observation manifested itself concretely as a range of online threats and issues rose in prominence in the early days of the pandemic, as we collectively became increasingly dependent on digital means of communication. To quote only a few examples, economically-motivated cybercrime (ransomware, phishing, payment fraud) rose, along with predatory behaviours against children online and the volume and circulation of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). Issues pertaining to misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories – particularly with regards to public health matters – took centre stage. As we collectively spent an increased amount of time online, privacy concerns also gained more attention from the general public.
As a celebration observed by the full array of stakeholders involved in online safety, Safer Internet Day offers, every February, a forum of exchange and discussion on these ever-changing safer and better internet issues, along with potential solutions. Safer Internet Day offers you the possibility to make your voice heard on these issues, regardless of where or who you are – to share what you love so much about the online world, and what needs to change.
Changing your online habits for the better
When it comes to the online world, the saying “if you want to change the world, change yourself first” has never been more true. Beyond the opportunity to get involved in a global debate about your aspirations and concerns for a better internet, Safer Internet Day is also the occasion for you to reflect very concretely on the part which each of us – including you – play in this regard.
This means reevaluating our online habits to be more kind, respectful and mindful of the information we share online. This means becoming the digital role models our children deserve, in order to enable them to make positive and responsible use of digital technologies through dialogue and education. This means taking the necessary steps to ensure digital literacy and online safety are properly embedded in all school curricula, in order to give every citizen the tools to better navigate the online world early on in life. This means, for those in the ICT industry, providing positive online content for children and young people, safe services online and efficient reporting mechanisms if things go wrong. This means promoting greater awareness of safer and better internet issues in the local, national and international political arena, in order to impact governance and legislation in a constructive way.
Have a look at the tips and links below with some suggestions on how to get you started and help you to stay safe and positive online.
Communication is the key to identifying online misinformation….
Talk regularly with your child about how they use technology and where they go for information online. Discuss who they follow, what types of adverts they see, and what stories they find surprising or suspicious. Listening to your child will give you the best possible idea of how you can support them. Not sure where to begin? Have a look at our suggested ‘Conversation Starters’ for parents and carers.
Set an example
Show your child how you question and evaluate online content….
If you come across a fake news story, or get sent a phishing email, discuss with your child how you spotted it and what you did. Why not ask them for a second opinion? Your child may have already heard about it or seen something similar, and if not, it’s a learning opportunity for both of you. Seeing a parent actively question and evaluate online content teaches young people the importance of doing the same.
Think before you share
Fact-check and reflect before sharing content, posts or pictures….
It can be tempting to share surprising or attention-grabbing online content with your child or your family group chats, but make sure to fact-check these links before you do. As it’s come from a parent, some children may believe it without questioning it, and older children may find it difficult or awkward to point out if it is false or misleading. This is another chance to set a good example in how to share information responsibly online.
Check in with your child
How does misleading information they see online make them feel?
False and misleading content online can be upsetting and confusing, e.g. harmful claims that target specific groups, or unhealthy lifestyle tips. Young people may feel powerless when faced with the amount of unreliable content they see. Regularly check-in with your child about their online life and ask them how what they see makes them feel. This is an issue that affects all of us. Reassure your child that you are there to talk about things that upset them and to support them with how they feel.
Seek help and support
Ask other parents how they address misleading online content….
Just as we ask young people to talk about what they are unsure of, make sure you do too! Chances are that you’ll find other parents or carers who are trying to figure out how to help their family avoid false information and get the most out of the internet.
Find out how to get more support by visiting Childnet’s ‘Need Help?’ page. You can take steps to support your child online by using features such as making a report on a range of apps, games and services, and using privacy settings on social media.
For parents, there are many apps and services to assist you in keeping your children safe online. by searching Parental Control, you will usually be able to find them easy enough. Some services charge, some are free. Many Internet Service Providers also supply a ‘family safe system‘. This system not only prevents a certain level of spam, but it will also proactively prevent access to sites considered unsuitable for children. If you are uncertain if you have the family safe system working, you can either contact your internet provider or login to your account online and you will find the information there usually under a settings tab.
Check your children’s privacy level on sites they sign up to. If, for example, they use Facebook (13yrs+) Ensure they set their profile to friends only and that they only add people they actually know in person. This will reduce their risk level on those platforms. It is too easy nowadays with online gaming and chats for them to unwittingly end up talking to the wrong type of people.
Many parents nowadays actually rely on their children for advice on technical things. Some are afraid of technology or simply don’t understand the internet. You’re not alone, but never fear to ask another parent or someone you trust with a bit more experience and understanding to help you if you have concerns on how to make your child safer.