The Better Internet for Kids (BIK) Policy Map is a series of studies that began in 2014 with the aim of mapping policies and activities that support children’s use of the internet and the implementation of the European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids (the ‘BIK strategy’), allowing for comparison and knowledge exchange across the EU. The fourth report of the series will be released in celebration of the one-year anniversary of the BIK+ strategy in May 2023. It constitutes the first BIK Policy Map to report on developments in the 27 EU Member States, Iceland and Norway, since the adoption of the new BIK+ strategy.
The BIK+ strategy is the new European strategy adopted by the European Commission in May 2022 to improve age-appropriate digital services and ensure that every child is protected, empowered, and respected online, with no one left behind. Read more about the BIK+ strategy.
In its fourth edition, the BIK Policy Map provides an insightful snapshot during a time of significant policy change, with the adoption of the BIK+ strategy and the coming into effect of the revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) as just two of the most recent motions. It presents findings on the policy frameworks and policy-making processes across Europe and maps national activities around the three pillars of the BIK+ strategy: safe digital experiences, digital empowerment, and active participation.
- Safe digital experiences, protecting children from harmful and illegal online content, conduct, and risks and improving their well-being through a safe, age-appropriate digital environment.
- Digital empowerment so that children acquire the necessary skills and competencies to make informed choices and express themselves in the online environment safely and responsibly.
- Active participation, respecting children by giving them a say in the digital environment, with more child-led activities to foster innovative and creative safe digital experiences.
The report processes the contributions and data collected with the support of a network of national contacts comprising representatives of the Expert Group on Safer Internet for Children and Safer Internet Centres in the Member States.
National policy frameworks and policy-making for a better internet for kids
The report refers to policy frameworks as organising principles and long-term goals that unify the multitude of national policies and activities across government departments or ministries supporting children’s digital experiences.
While all participating countries continue to address children’s internet use in policy, and 25 of 29 countries report that the BIK strategy had impacted national policy, only two countries (Ireland and Slovakia) have a single overarching integrated policy framework addressing children’s internet use in place at the national level. Half of the remaining countries indicate that there were several separate dedicated policies in place that address the matters of children online, while the other half reports BIK matters being addressed as part of broader policies.
The report finds that the drawing together of different strands of national policy activities into a common strategic framework remains a challenge for participating countries and hence notes considerable scope at the national level remains to align BIK-related policies in a more cohesive and strategic fashion with children’s rights as a foundation.
In terms of policy-making, the BIK Policy Map report reflects participating countries’ management and coordination of policy, stakeholder involvement in policy governance and the availability of research and evidence supporting policy-making. In 22 of 29 countries, BIK policy matters continue to be coordinated by multiple national bodies. Only three countries report one single body as responsible for all BIK policy (a single government department in the Czech Republic, a public agency in Ireland, and a multi-stakeholder body in Slovakia). In one case, namely Belgium, an alternative mechanism in place includes a nationwide consortium reaching across different federal structures and language groups.
National policy coordination continues to be complex, given the number of ministries involved in policy-making processes. For instance, 25 of 29 countries report that BIK policy-making involves four or more ministries, of which five countries report the involvement of more than six ministries. At the same time, the majority of countries indicate having inter-departmental communication and cooperation mechanisms in place at the national level. With these findings, the trend towards a wider distribution of responsibility for policy development and coordination across more than four government departments or ministries continues.
A shared measurement system, that is the availability of regular data collection at the national level to support policy development on BIK matters, is considered critical for effective decision-making, monitoring and evaluation. The new report finds a continued increase of available research and evidence, with 24 of 29 countries reporting national or regional surveys of children’s internet use within the last three years. In 20 countries, these form part of a regular series of national data collection. In 21 of 29 countries, collected evidence at the national level impacts policy-making. It has influenced policy design, which marks a slight decrease from the last BIK Policy Map report (24 of 30 countries) in 2020.
In the majority of countries (26 of 29), new policy developments, including new BIK topics and issues, have taken place in the past three years, and 20 of 29 countries note that these have, in part, been a response to specific events or concerns at the national level. For instance, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, political attention to children’s well-being online, concerns about sexual exploitation and cyberbullying, to name but a few examples, has increased.
Safe digital experiences (BIK+ strategy pillar 1)
Protecting children from harmful and illegal online content, conduct, and risks and improving their well-being through a safe, age-appropriate digital environment continue to be a rapidly evolving area of policy development across the participating countries. Compared to the 2020 BIK Policy Map report, government ministries remain the lead actor of the most relevant actions and measures in this realm, with significant involvement from public agencies and Safer Internet Centres.
Overall, the national delivery of this pillar of the BIK+ strategy is heavily supported across all participating countries, and issues such as age-appropriate privacy settings or parental controls remain key national concerns. However, concurrently, the context for the implementation has changed under legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the updated rules for video-sharing platforms with the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), or the enhanced protection of minors coming into effect with the Digital Services Act (DSA).
Given the range of newly implemented and ongoing motions in this respect, the impact of new legislative and policy changes needs to be tracked regularly to safeguard the protection of children online and monitor the development of codes of practice and standards across the EU. Ideally, the monitoring and tracking activities will take place continuously and feed into a central BIK+ Policy Map Index to best inform and guide policymakers on the most up-to-date BIK-related policy developments.
Digital empowerment (BIK+ strategy pillar 2)
This pillar of the new BIK+ strategy is concerned with empowering children with the necessary skills to make safe choices online by comprehensively supporting the development of media literacy and digital skills. This strand of activity is led by Safer Internet Centres in 25 of 29 countries, followed by government ministries and public agencies with BIK responsibilities. In contrast, NGOs, industry, public broadcasters and universities play a supporting or complementary role in most countries across the EU 27 and Iceland and Norway.
Overall, the findings in relation to teaching online safety in schools continue the trend found in the 2020 BIK Policy Map report and illustrate a sustained high priority for online safety education in all participating countries. The same trend continues for the provision of activities and initiatives promoting digital and media literacy across the vast majority of participating countries, both in terms of national education policy, and activities and initiatives carried out by Safer Internet Centres and other national BIK-related stakeholders.
In future efforts, monitoring should closely integrate measures to tackle forms and expressions of the digital divide that affect children’s equal, effective, safe and inclusive access to digital technology. In parallel, a further focus should be on evaluating the latest curricular changes, particularly in relation to equal and inclusive access not just to digital technology per se, but more so to digital empowerment.
Active participation (BIK+ strategy pillar 3)
This pillar of the BIK+ strategy is dedicated to enhancing children’s active participation online with increasing child-led activities to foster innovative and creative digital experiences. Drawing on the EU’s strategy on the Rights of the Child, the pillar emphasises the importance of supporting children’s digital citizenship skills. It aims to ensure that children’s voices are not only heard but actively sought out in policy and public decision-making.
The majority of countries (19 of 29) report in this new iteration of the BIK Policy Map that young people are systematically and directly consulted on relevant policy through mechanisms such as hearings, consultations or surveys. This marks a slight increase since the last mapping in 2020 (2020: 17 of 19). When looking at children’s involvement in the development of national public awareness-raising campaigns and activities, 26 of 29 countries report children and young people directly participating in such activities. Regarding their involvement in developing legislation, 14 countries indicate directly involving children in matters that impact their online activities. In contrast, another 13 countries report that there is no involvement of children in the development of new legislation. In terms of fostering high-quality, positive content for children to develop their creativity, the new study finds that 27 of 29 countries have ongoing initiatives that stimulate the production and visibility of quality content for kids online. Even stronger are the countries’ commitments to initiatives at the national level to encourage children’s creativity and promote positive use of the internet (28 of 29 countries).
In general, while high levels of child and youth participation are reported in the vast majority of countries – and Safer Internet Centres are the key actor in facilitating these activities and initiatives – it is rarely the case that children and young people have the possibility to act as decision-makers in policy processes. Instead, participation by proxy is the current standard. Yet, as a newly defined pillar within the new BIK+ strategy, future national development monitoring in this area is critical. Opportunities for children to participate in public decision-making, the implementation of children’s rights across all activities and initiatives, and child-led evaluation are crucial cornerstones to safeguard a better internet for kids rooted in children’s rights.
Overall, the BIK Policy Map highlights the importance of a cohesive and integrated approach to BIK-related policies at the national level. It recommends that countries align BIK-related policies more strategically with children's rights as a foundation. The study also suggests future mapping iterations to focus on different policy design and governance models, particularly in the context of new and emerging regulatory structures for the digital environment. By adopting these recommendations, countries can ensure that their policies effectively support children's use of the internet and ensure their safety, empowerment, and active participation.
As a precursor to the publication of the full BIK Policy Map report, we invite you to take a look at a series of country impact case studies providing insights from a national perspective rather than from the point of view of implementing EU strategy. Four countries were chosen as subjects for the case studies: Ireland, Finland, Malta and Germany. Using the collective impact model as an analytical framework, desk research and qualitative interviews were carried out with country experts to identify various features, including policy coordination and design. Formal cooperation mechanisms, and the active participation of children and young people in the policy cycle, among others.
Further information on BIK Policy Map actions and outputs can be found at www.betterinternetforkids.eu/bikmap.