6 February 2018 is a special day. As European digital economy and society Commissioner, I am proud to celebrate the 15th edition of Safer Internet Day. Year on year, thanks to the efforts of the safer internet centres network and the coordination of the European Commission, this initiative has grown steadily. By reaching millions of citizens worldwide, this has become an EU flagship initiative and helped to raise awareness on a safer internet.
This year’s slogan is, ‘Create, connect and share respect: A better internet starts with you’. This is a call to action for each of us to play our part in creating a better digital environment for all citizens, especially the youngest users.
Today’s children are growing up in an increasingly digital environment with devices and services that allow them to play, learn, create and interact online. This new digital era offers them many opportunities. However, it is important to recognise and address the risks that come along with such opportunities.
In a typical week, children aged 5-15 spend more than 15 hours online, while half of all 11- to 16-year olds have encountered one or more of the most common internet risks. Almost half of teenagers aged up to 15 find it difficult to tell whether a news story online is true, while a quarter of them believe that if a website is listed by a search engine it can be trusted.
Most parents whose children go online agree that the benefits of the internet outweigh the risks. However, they are increasingly concerned about online risks such as cyberbullying, sharing personal details, exposure to inappropriate content and the possibility of their child to be radicalised online.
It is crucial that citizens acquire the necessary skills and develop habits for a safer and responsible digital life from an early age. These include online respect and critical thinking as well as password and digital identity management.
What is the Commission doing to address online risks? It has been at the forefront in making the internet a safer place for children. The European strategy for a better internet for children sets out a series of actions for online safety, combining financial support, legislation and self-regulation involving member states, industry and civil society.
The Commission co-funds a network of European safer internet centres, coordinated at EU level by Insafe and INHOPE, along with the core platform betterinternetforkids.eu as a single entry point for online tools and services for citizens.
These centres deliver a range of awareness-raising activities, including hosting trainings for children and young people, parents, carers and teachers. In 2016, more than 27 million citizens were reached through these activities.
Centres also offer helpline counselling for minors and hotlines to report child sexual abuse material.
In 2016 the INHOPE network received more than 200,000 reports of child sexual abuse. Thanks to the hotlines, 75 per cent of the reports in Europe were addressed in less than three working days.
In addition, the Commission facilitates the self-regulatory initiative, the Alliance to Better Protect Minors Online. This aims to improve the online environment for children and young people.
Officially launched on Safer Internet Day 2017, it brings together 26 leading ICT and media companies, NGOs and UNICEF to address harmful content and behaviour faced by minors online and engaging in a dialogue to identify common solutions for a safer internet for minors.
On this year’s Safer Internet Day I am launching an EU-wide awareness campaign to foster digital culture among children and young people: #SaferInternet4EU#BetterInternet4EU. The campaign is part of the recently adopted digital education action plan that sets out a series of initiatives for supporting citizens, educational institutions and education systems in adapting to life and work in an age of rapid digital change.
Through federating efforts by different stakeholders, we aim to promote a safer internet, making children, parents and teachers evermore aware of digital opportunities and challenges. It will encompass a wide range of topics, including critical thinking, media literacy and the digital skills necessary to identify and combat fake news as well as the risks posed by emerging online technologies and connected devices.
I am honoured to be a part of this Safer Internet Day celebration to improve our online lives and empower young people to become confident individuals in the 21st century’s digital landscape. I call on all MEPs to continue supporting safer internet activities, and to become role models for our citizens in all the ways we engage and interact with technology.