There are fears that 2018 could mark the final “Safer Internet Day” in Britain. The annual landmark event in the online safety calendar, is celebrated in over a hundred countries, but Britain’s day has always been funded by European cash.
Each year Safer Internet Day aims to raise awareness of emerging online safety issues. As the biggest safer internet day in Europe, the UK’s day is a recognised success story. Last year it reached 2.8 million children and 2.5 million parents with 87% of children saying that they felt more confident about what to do if they had concerns online after taking part in the event.
As I recently said in a debate in the European Parliament “No one who voted for Brexit, voted to make the internet more dangerous for children”, but I fear this is exactly what could happen.
The Internet Watch Foundation, a not for profit organisation who work internationally to make the internet safer by removing images of child sexual abuse, are based in my constituency. As one of their champions, I am deeply concerned.
The grant the IWF currently receives from the EU comes to an end in December 2018. It is worth around £1 million to them and over £3.54 million to their partners at the UK Safer Internet Centre. This EU grant funds half of the salaries of the IWF’s analysts who search the internet for horrific images of child abuse, a public hotline to anonymously report child sexual abuse material, a programme of education for children about their online safety in schools and this week’s Safer Internet Day in its entirety.
All our lives are increasingly digital, and this is especially true for young people. Friendships are forged online, one in five 8 to 11 year olds and seven in ten 12 to 15 year olds have a social media profile, photos are exchanged on SnapChat and group chats happen on WhatsApp.
More than ever, therefore, young people need to be aware of dangers of cyber bullies, spotting online stranger danger and avoiding being a victim of revenge porn.
YouTube viewing is now more popular than watching television on a TV set for young people according to a recent Ofcom survey. This matters, family shows like Strictly or the X Factor abide by the watershed with rules on sexual content and swearing. A Blue Peter presenter is trained on behaviour that could be imitated, avoiding drug and alcohol references and inappropriate physical contact and the shows go through an editorial control process. In stark contrast, YouTube vlogger Logan Paul’s video “We found a Dead Body in the Japanese Suicide Forest” was viewed 6.3 million times in a day before he removed it after a public outcry.
Meanwhile in the era of “fake news”, more than one in four 8-15s who use search engines believe that if Google lists information then it can be trusted.
Keeping children safe online requires a concerted effort. The Government is currently considering responses to its Green Paper on the Internet Safety Strategy, the European Parliament voted in December on a package of measures to combat online abuse and exploitation and the NSPCC is calling for mandatory code to regulate social media and tackle online grooming.
The need to inform and educate young people about the digital world must remain a priority. Young people need to be supported to use technology safely and responsibly and crucially learn the skills to understand, question and manage their time online. This “critical understanding” is a vital life skill.
A quick browse of the Safer Internet Day website shows this is happening today across Europe. There is a guide for Spanish teachers on “sexting”, Greek youngsters can read about, “Digi-duck’s big decision”, French children can download a cyber bullying first aid app and 833 events will take place in schools across Britain. Let us make sure that the same is true next year too, that our children are properly equipped for 21st century world and that Safer Internet Day is not another casualty of Brexit.