Tuesday marked the eleventh anniversary of Safer Internet Day – a day dedicated to teaching young people and carers the importance of staying safe online. As usual, as part of this year’s campaign we saw a number of shocking statistics including the fact that nearly a third of all 11-16 year olds say that they have been targeted by mean or cruel behaviour online in the past year. Furthermore, one in twenty 11-16 year olds say that they feel that people are mean to them “most of the time” while online.
Discussing these issues, Will Gardner, chief executive of Childnet International and director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, said: “The report shows how important technology is in young people’s lives and their friendships: for the majority of them, the Internet is a positive place. But there is still that issue of young people that don’t have such a good time. We don’t want to trivialise the fact that many young people are having a difficult time online.
“We want to use this Safer Internet Day event to inspire young people to create a kinder Internet for themselves, as well as showing parents that Internet safety is an important issue to be looking at. The different services now have safety centres where you can get advice on how to keep safe, and there have been some improvements to the reporting and blocking tools available on those services.”
What Gardner has gleamed upon here is a very important issue when it comes to the Internet: many young children do not know how to stay safe online. Furthermore, even though the digital divide means that there are large parts of the UK with poor Internet connectivity, those that can get online may not know how to stay safe.
Gardner acknowledges that this had led to numerous issues, especially on social networking sites such as Facebook. He said: “Facebook reporting wasn’t transparent in the past: when you made a report, you didn’t know what happened to it. Now it has a dashboard where you can track that report, see if it’s been dealt with or not, and what the outcome was. It’s really important that these service providers maintain their users’ confidence in the safety tools that are there.”
However, even though social networking sites are adding reporting facilities to their sites this is still not enough. When it comes to the digital divide there are two issues that need to be tackled: lack of access and lack of education. Even if the government is able to roll out high speed Internet across the whole of the UK this doesn’t mean that everyone will be able to use it safely.
This is why when it comes to resolving the digital divide it is of the utmost importance that the government provides both parents and schools the tools to teach children how to stay safe online. This is also something that Gardner supports, who said: “Our goal is to try to get a dialogue between parents and children about technology. Just as you’d ask you child what they did today, so you can take an interest in their online lives and the services that they’re using.
“If there is a dialogue going on, it’s more likely that young people will come and talk to their parent if something goes wrong. The UK is seen as something of a leader in the area of online safety. We’re very careful not to make this into a political issue: it is something which is relevant to everybody.
“We want to make sure that whatever happens after the general election in May, there is good support in this space for education and awareness work. Young people are seizing the opportunity to engage with new technologies: they’re doing brilliant things, discovering new things, connecting with other people and being creative. That is a positive story. At the same time, let’s not ignore the fact that there are some other issues here.”
So how can we improve the digital divide here in the UK? The core of the issue here is education both when it comes to technology as well as online behaviour and ethics. Children are unfortunately the most vulnerable when it comes to online abuse, which is why it is of the utmost importance that parents and carers are given much information as possible.