By Robin Gomes
Safer Internet Day (SID) is being observed on Tuesday all over the world. Marked on the second day of the second week of February, the annual day was launched in 2004 as an initiative of the SafeBorders project of the European Union. It was taken up by the European Commission’s Insafe network of Safer Internet Centres (SICs) as one of its earliest actions in 2005.
"Together for a better internet"
From cyberbullying to social networking to digital identity, each year Safer Internet Day aims to raise awareness of emerging online issues and current concerns. The theme of the February 9 Safer Internet Day this year is, "Together for a better internet". It calls on everyone to join in making the internet a safer and better place, especially for children and young people.
Every national Safer Internet Centre implements awareness and educational campaigns, runs a helpline, and works closely with youth to ensure an evidence-based, multi-stakeholder approach to creating a better internet.
Safer Internet Day has grown beyond its traditional geographic zone and is now celebrated in more than 170 countries worldwide. In 2009, the concept of Safer Internet Day Committees was introduced, to strengthen the bonds with countries outside the network and invest in a harmonised promotion of the campaign across the world. More than 100 global SID Committees (and those working towards SID Committee status) now work closely with the Safer Internet Day Coordination Team, which is based at the heart of the EU in Brussels.
“Young people need to feel safe and empowered when navigating the online world so that they can fully benefit from the digital world,” said Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth. “With the EU Digital Education Action Plan we put digital education at the centre of Europe’s educational landscape, promoting digital literacy to tackle disinformation online, supporting educators and teachers, and ensuring quality online learning,” she said.
With most of the daily activities moving online, people want their children to be protected when they browse online, noted Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for Internal Market. He said the EU is committed to making "the digital transformation benefit everyone safely”. “What is illegal offline should be illegal online. We now expect the tech industry to play its part for a safer internet in respect of EU rules without delay,” Breton added.
The recently revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive of the EU requires online video-sharing platforms to restrict children’s access to harmful content. The Digital Services Act, proposed in December 2020, foresees specific obligations for very large platforms to address significant risks to the well-being of minors. Furthermore, the Better Internet for Kids platform, the pan-European resource hub under the European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children, provides children, their parents and educators with a wealth of relevant information and resources. To better protect children online, the European Commission also presented last year an EU strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse, focusing on cooperating with industry, enhancing prevention, strengthening law enforcement response and implementing and developing a strong legal framework.
This year's Safer Internet Day comes a day after Pope Francis drew the attention of governments and authorities to the dangers that people, especially the young, are exposed to online under the coronavirus restrictions. The increased amount of time spent at home has "led to greater isolation as people pass longer hours before computers and other media, with serious consequences for the more vulnerable, particularly the poor and the unemployed,” the Pope told the diplomatic corps on February 8. “They become easier prey for cybercrime in its most dehumanizing aspects, including fraud, trafficking in persons, the exploitation of prostitution, including child prostitution, and child pornography,” he said in his state-of-the world speech. “The increase in distance learning has also led to a greater dependence of children and adolescents on the internet and on virtual forms of communication in general, making them all the more vulnerable and overexposed to online criminal activities,” he said.