On Safer Internet Day millions of children, parents, educators and policy makers in over 120 countries across six continents were exploring how to stay safe online. The digital world offers endless opportunities, but it is also a place where young people may be exposed to violent or disturbing content, strong language or hate speech or become victims of cyber-bullying, or sexual harassment. This is an issue of everyone's concern as one third of all internet users worldwide are below the age of 18, and 68% of 9-16 year olds have at least one profile on a social network.
The motto of Safer Internet Day 2017 is "Be the change: unite for a better internet". In this spirit, the European Commission, tech and telecoms companies, broadcasters, NGOs and UNICEF (who form the Alliance to Better Protect Minors Online) unveiled a major self-regulatory initiative to address harmful content, harmful conduct and harmful contact online. This has been brokered by the European Commission in line with its Better Internet for Kids strategy.
Andrus Ansip, the Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, said: "Today, our children are born into an increasingly digital society and start using the internet at an ever younger age. This gives them a direct involvement and importance in the Digital Single Market. While online activities stimulate their critical thinking, they may face risks that can harm their well-being and development. Creating a safe digital environment for children is a shared responsibility and so I welcome this self-regulatory initiative from companies and NGOs. I have high expectations of the Alliance's work to make the internet safer and better for children."
Statement of Purpose
In the Statement of Purpose companies agreed to curb harmful content, harmful conduct and harmful contact (such as cyberbullying, sexual extortion and exposure to violent content), through three strands of action:
- User-empowerment to promote enhanced use of parental tools, content classification and other tools for online safety. Reporting tools will be provided in a more accessible and user-friendly way. Companies will also focus on improving follow-up measures such as feedback and notifications.
- Companies commit to intensify cooperation and sharing of best practices, also by taking account relevant input from NGOs, civil society, European, national and local authorities and international organisations.
- Members of the Alliance intend to scale up awareness raising and also to promote and increase access to positive, educational and diversified content online.
This could prepare the ground for more formal self-and co-regulatory mechanisms which the proposal for a revised Audiovisual Media Service Directive seeks to promote. It complements the Code of Conduct and commitments to combat the spread of illegal hate speech online announced by the European Commission and IT companies last year.
The companies who endorsed the Statement of Purpose have responded to the European Commission's call for action of May 2016. Many of them already have ongoing commitments to respect and support children's rights online. Within the next three months, companies will announce their individual commitments to improve online safety as part of the Alliance to Better Protect Minors Online. Members of the Alliance (see annex for full list) and the European Commission, have agreed to assess implementation of this initiative through regular transparent and independent monitoring and evaluation.
As previous and ongoing industry cooperation has shown, self-regulation can make the industry more responsive and flexible in addressing safety challenges. The Alliance is a cooperative voluntary initiative, building on existing work for child online safety and new members will be welcome. The Commission expects that the actions announced today will be embraced by a growing number of companies as the starting point of a new process.
Safer Internet Day, launched by the European Commission in 2004, is celebrated in over 120 countries across six continents. In 2016 alone it reached 2,8 million children, 2,5 million parents, and up to 400 million people on social media. Safer Internet Day is coordinated by the Insafe/INHOPE network thanks to funding from the through the Connecting Europe Facility. The European Commission's Safer Internet Programme(link), operating under the Connecting Europe Facility (link), finances a network of Safer Internet Centres in 27 Member States, Norway and Iceland.
In the Digital Single Market Strategy, European Commission promotes an inclusive digital society, where people have the necessary skills to go online and do so safely. Through its Strategy for a Better Internet for Children, the Commission coordinates initiatives to be undertaken by the Commission, Member States and the whole industry value chain.