Safer internet day: Education key to a better internet
Ensuring that children and young teenagers stay safe online means teaching them how to critically assess the content they come across, say policymakers.
The internet is a central part of many people's lives, particularly younger generations who have little to no idea what life was like before the internet existed. Most of us are members of social networks and regularly watch films, shop and read articles - all online.
Although the internet is an incredibly useful tool, as European education, culture youth and sport Commissioner Tibor Navracsics points out, "it also has a dark side. Some people abuse it to spread propaganda, hate speech or radical ideas, potentially leading to violent extremism."
"Young people are vulnerable to this. Not all of them are able to use new technologies in a confident and critical light. That is why, as part of my efforts to help tackle radicalisation, I want to promote media literacy."
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Media literacy, explains Navracsics, "means more than digital skills – it's about being able to assess and question information, to think critically and to form opinions independently."
This is part of the aim of Safer Internet Day. This is celebrated every February in over 100 countries, in order to raise awareness on a range of online issues, from radicalisation to online bullying. This year's theme is, 'Play your part for a better internet'.
Underlining the importance of Safer Internet Day, Roberto Viola, who heads the Commission's DG Connect, explains that it is, "the flagship event under the Better Internet for Kids strategy. Year after year, it reaches more countries and people worldwide."
"DG Connect plays its part for a better internet by continuing to make the best use of coordination and funding and contributing to the optimal regulatory set-up."
Silvia Costa, Chair of the European Parliament's culture and education committee, has a few ideas of her own on how to protect minors in the digital world. These, she says, "can be increased by improving existing mechanisms, such as national hotlines, red buttons and parental alerts, among others things. This will help to ensure a coherent and coordinated approach the children's online safety."
"On access and education," she adds, "member states must be encouraged to promote the dissemination of safe and high-quality content, alongside rules aimed at educating not just minors, but also their families and teachers, and involving organisations, institutions and private companies."
EPP group MEP Pilar del Castillo Vera notes that in terms of protecting children online, "valuable actions have taken place at European level."
"These include the 2012 European strategy for a better internet for children, the CEO coalition to make the internet a better place for kids, the safer social networking principles for the EU, or the European framework for safer mobile use by younger teenagers and children."
However, she underlines that, "just as the digital world continues to evolve, for example with new devices and new ways to interact, so too should policymaking. There remains much to be done. In this regard, policymakers must continue to focus on stimulating the production of creative and educational online content for children and promoting positive online experiences for young children."
"They should look to scale up awareness and empowerment, including creating a safe environment for children through age-appropriate privacy settings, as well as wider use of parental controls, age-rating and content classification."
Julie Ward, who sits on Parliament's culture committee and on the board of the European internet forum, which brings together MEPs and civil society on digital issues, says, "Digital skills should be recognised as basic skills. They should also include critical and creative thinking and the capacity to deal with different opinions."
She is confident that; "The EU and national governments have much to contribute in promoting a positive use of digital technology for children and youth."
"Organisations and initiatives from civil society also play a vital role, ensuring that the digital revolution does not leave anyone behind, promoting access to the internet for vulnerable people, and fighting to prevent cyberbullying and gender-based violence."
S&D group member Miriam Dalli agrees, saying, "Children require guidance and education as to what is acceptable behaviour and how to react to bullying, both online and offline. The strongest tools in this regard are education and promotional campaigns, which can really drive the message home."
"Member states have a critical role to play here, by educating young people about the permanence of what is put online and the value of their personal data and the information they publish online. What is unacceptable behaviour offline is just as unacceptable online."
"Equally," adds Dalli, "parents need to be made aware of what is happening online and what issues their children may come across."
"They need to have the proper tools to be good digital parents, in the same way they are good parents in the offline world. Educational campaigns can help, particularly where the main stakeholders, such as technology companies and mobile operators, are involved."
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