Knowledge and understanding key to online safety of young people

Everyone has a role to play in making the internet a safer place that empowers and inspires young people, says Neelie Kroes

By Neelie Kroes

06 Mar 2014

The internet is a great place for kids to be - somewhere to play and learn, interact and explore. Of course it is not 100 per cent risk-free – no environment is, on- or off-line – but we are continually finding ways to make the internet a better place for kids.

This year Safer Internet Day has a dedicated theme: 'Let's create a better internet together' - with young, empowered digital citizens at its very heart. We say 'together' because everyone has a role to play – national and international policymakers, schools and teachers, industry and NGOs, kids and parents, and more: all have their own responsibilities. Together, we can deliver these improvements, empowering young people while keeping them safe from harm.

But how? We need to move forward, together: child safety should be about collaboration, not competition. That's the best way to ensure a better internet for kids. Indeed, it is often businesses who can most positively influence the products and services available, and who are in touch with users: there is much they can achieve by working in partnership with other stakeholders like governments, NGOs and researchers.

So, when it comes to child safety online, I see the private sector as part of the solution, not part of problem. That is why, in 2011, I called on the CEOs from a range of European and global companies to focus and find concrete solutions to concrete problems. Now those companies have committed in a range of areas: to make it easier to report harmful content, with privacy settings appropriate to age, with more content classification and parental tools, and with effective systems for taking down child abuse material. Sad to say, activities like distributing online child pornography or cybercrime are often organised and coordinated, and do not stop at national borders. Our efforts to tackle and combat them must be similarly joined-up.

Of course, the onus does not just lie with ICT companies. Kids can have a better, safer time if they know how to explore and exploit the online world; the greater their digital competency, the lower the risks. So boosting digital literacy and skills is an important way to keep kids safe - not to mention giving them a skill that can only benefit them in later life, too. So I firmly believe that these subjects should be taught in every school, and I am very pleased that the EU will be supplying ways and means to make this a reality, under the new Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ programmes; as set out in last September's proposals on "Opening up Education".

But really, Safer Internet Day is about giving everybody an opportunity to connect. Coordinated by our excellent networks Insafe and INHOPE, there are events all over Europe and certainly near you: whether you're a parent, pupil, policymaker or professional, check out http://saferinternetday.orgfor what's on where you are. And I'm proud to say that, no longer just a "European thing", it is now celebrated in more than 100 countries: including the US, following the joint declaration I signed with former US secretary of homeland security Janet Napolitano in 2012.

Finally: building a better internet for kids means ensuring they have safe quality online content to enjoy. On Safer Internet Day, I will be handing over some very special prizes as part of the European award for 'best online content for kids'. They will have been selected from over 1100 entries from all over Europe and beyond. Several of the winners are actually themselves kids and young people who code, create websites and blogs for their peers - after all, who better to understand and design these ideas than kids themselves.

I'm always amazed by the creativity and innovation young people can show and really look forward to seeing what they come up with this year. It's an amazing example of how having digital skills opens a whole range of new possibilities for everyone.

I hope that, on Safer Internet Day and beyond, we can deliver this better internet for children: a place with fun, creative, and educational online content; a place where they can be happy and where parents can feel comfortable for them to explore. That is a great way to ensure the digital revolution delivers for every citizen, and that we build a generation of digitally confident, capable citizens, well-placed to benefit from new technological developments throughout their lives. So, let's create a better internet together, today.

Neelie Kroes is European commission vice president for the digital agenda

Read the most recent articles written by Neelie Kroes - eHealth can provide ‘triple win’ situation