Safer Internet Day: Constant vigilance

Written by Thierry Breton and Mariya Gabriel on 11 February 2020 in Opinion

The internet has impacted our lives in countless positive ways; however, we must be vigilant to ensure it remains safe. Let’s focus on children to build a better Internet of the future, write Mariya Gabriel and Thierry Breton.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

On 11 February, the European Commission is celebrating Safer Internet Day and will join the movement across the globe to work “Together for a better internet”. The web has expanded a great deal in its 40 years of existence, becoming a daily companion that has changed how we communicate, study, travel, work and live.

The next generation has already made its mark on the digital space; every third internet user is a child; an estimated 800 million children now use social media today. By 2022, there will be another 1.2 billion users, with children being the fastest-growing online demographic.

However, the complexity of the web and the increased possibilities to interconnect present new challenges for our shared digital space and its users.


One of these challenges is to ensure that the internet is safe for everyone to use; illegal hate speech, terrorist propaganda or material depicting child abuse have no place in our societies – be it offline, or online.

The Code of Conduct on countering illegal hate speech online has allowed us to work with online platforms and respond quickly and effectively to address the proliferation of racist and xenophobic hate speech online.

Fake news is also an area of concern; according to a Eurobarometer survey, 83 percent of Europeans think that online fake news is a threat to democracy.

We have been working with social media and online platforms to prevent the spread of disinformation online and to make it clearer to users where a piece of news or an advertisement originates from.

"One of these challenges is to ensure that the internet is safe for everyone to use; illegal hate speech, terrorist propaganda or material depicting child abuse have no place in our societies"

Over the next few months, we will be working on a comprehensive strategy on the Rights of the Child, which will include the rights of minors online, and we will propose an updated Digital Education Action Plan. Building a safer internet has been at the heart of our approach towards reforming the audio-visual sector rules.

These reforms have included specific provisions to protect our more vulnerable groups from dangerous content online. Digital and media literacy must be at the core of any strategy seeking to benefit from the digital revolution.

Our strategy for a “Better Internet for Children” offers concrete proposals that help prepare and teach children and young people how to use the internet safely.

These proposals include financial support for programmes that raise awareness and foster digital literacy among minors, parents, and teachers, building on an existing wealth of resources on safe internet practices already available at

The internet must be a place for everyone, which means that everyone should participate in this process.

The European Commission is committed to engaging with both civil society and the citizens and taking their input on board when considering how to make the web a safer place and make Europe fit for the digital age.

Safer Internet Day 2020 is organised by the EU-funded Safer Internet Centres’ network and the Safer Internet Day Committees worldwide, bringing together thousands of people and organisations. This year marks the 17th annual celebration of safer internet use.

"According to a Eurobarometer survey, 83 percent of Europeans think that online fake news is a threat to democracy"

In 2019, the day united millions of people in events and activities in around 150 countries, inspiring positive changes online and raising awareness of online safety issues.

This year, the European Commission will organise a discussion with the INHOPE network of hotlines combating child sexual abuse online, and experts from industry, academics, and law enforcement on how Artificial Intelligence can be used to identify and remove child sexual abuse material online.

We will also promote a youth-led initiative to challenge the ICT industry to become more transparent and child-friendly in their privacy statements.

The work to make the internet a safer place will continue after Safer Internet Day 2020, together with representatives from the ‘Alliance to better protect minors online’ initiative, which was launched during Safer Internet Day 2017.

The Alliance is composed of some 40 key players from leading media and ICT companies, device and toys manufacturers to civil society and UNICEF, working together to address emerging risks facing minors.

About the author

Thierry Breton is European Commissioner for Internal Market and Mariya Gabriel is European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth

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