As far back as 2008, Sonia Livingstone wrote that "the media children consume are as ubiquitous as the air they breathe and the water they drink. Media are arguably the most pervasive and universal environmental health influence of today". With the passage of 10 years or so, children nowadays spend even more time using digital technologies and interacting with online content, from an ever-younger age. This significantly shapes their psychological, social and emotional development, and has the potential to offer them countless opportunities to learn and discover the world, but also to simply have fun
A well-designed, creative and safe online resource – be it an app, a website or an online service – can have a long-lasting positive impact on a child's education, their social interactions and participation in society. For this reason, all children deserve a better digital childhood, allowing them to experience the internet in a playful, safe and educational way through positive content, which is paramount to ensure that the young adults of tomorrow are empowered, digitally skilled, media literate, and active citizens.
Over recent years, the importance of positive online content has come into focus through a number of initiatives, such as the POSCON - Positive Online Content and Services for Children in Europe thematic network, the EC focus group on positive content, the European Award for Positive Online Content, sessions at the annual Safer Internet Forum (SIF) dedicated to the topic, and the first Positive Online Content campaign taking place with a week of activity in 2017, all of which have contributed in terms of knowledge building and resource development to this recent month of awareness raising.
Within the current Better Internet for Kids (BIK) line of work, we understand positive online content as "digital content aimed at children, which enables them to learn, have fun, create, enjoy, develop a positive view of themselves and respect for their identity, enhance their participation in society and produce and distribute their own positive content". Positive online content, apps, websites or services should be empowering for children, enabling them to feel as confident and independent as possible in their developing abilities within the online environment. Moreover, it should be engaging, stimulating and, of course, safe.
When choosing or designing online content aimed at children, many different parameters come into consideration. Firstly, it should correspond to the child's age and their cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional development abilities – as well as to their interests. Positive content should also take into consideration the different socio-cultural contexts in which it is to be consumed. Besides, developing stimulating digital experiences calls for the inclusion of creative, interactive, innovative, entertaining and/or educational elements, and appropriately challenging tasks and features.
Usability is another key requirement of positive online content, which should be easily accessible on different platforms, browsers and operating systems. The navigation structure needs to be user friendly, intuitive and adapted to the motor skills and competences of a child. The URL address and the name of the service should be clear and unequivocal, to avoid leading the child to unwanted – or even harmful – domains if misspelt. Besides, the content should also strive to be inclusive, taking into account the needs and requirements of children with disabilities in terms of vision, hearing, mobility or cognitive aspects. The structure, language, text, speech, sound, images and colours of the content and services must be adapted to assistive technologies.
Positive online content should be true, accurate, reliable and up to date – for this purpose, it should be maintained and reviewed on a regular basis. It should also comply with the relevant legislation or regulations regarding key issues such as the protection of minors, data protection, commercial communication, copyright, and so on. There should always be information about the creator of the content, their contact details, and information specifically targeted to parents and carers.
Of course, safety is a key concern when it comes to positive online content. It should not contain any offensive material or any other harmful elements, such as pornography, racist, violent, offending, or xenophobic content, pictures or videos – nor should it link to external resources containing such elements. Equally, it should incorporate an effective monitoring and moderation methodology, providing reporting mechanisms that are easy for children to find and use, as well as electronic age labels to help parental controls evaluate the suitability of the content for children of various age groups.
In the same way, protecting children's online privacy is also paramount; positive online content must be aligned with all applicable privacy laws – including the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – and should not gather more data than necessary. Information about privacy measures should be available, and the app, website or service's policies on the matter should be clearly visible and written in child-friendly language. Children's personal data should be treated confidentially, with possible exceptions being made transparent. Parental consent should always be required wherever children can share their personal data and/or access social media elements and communication features. Such features should contain specific rules and information on how to use them safely – this can take the form of guidance on how to appropriately communicate with others, how to protect personal data or to deal with cyberbullying, for example. If the platform allows for user contributions, constant and active monitoring and moderation of this content should be in place.
Potential commercial elements (such as advertising, sponsoring, online shopping, in-app purchases, and so on) should be developed in a responsible manner, respectful of the various regulations and laws on the topic. Such commercial elements need to be set apart from the content, easily recognisable, labelled as such, and age appropriate for children (no advertising for alcohol, tobacco, diet products, plastic surgery, and so on). The payment method should always require parental control, and there should be a limit to what children can spend on the website, the app or the online service.
Ensuring that all children have the best digital childhood possible thanks to positive online content is a collective endeavor involving a wide range of stakeholders. Parents and carers, teachers and educators, content providers and producers, decision makers and the research community are all engaged in a meaningful dialogue aiming to raise awareness of positive online content and to stimulate its production and mainstreaming. For this reason, the present BIK bulletin will reflect this diversity of views, with meaningful insights from young people, civil society organisations, decision makers, teachers and educators, and producers and providers of positive online content.
Read the full September 2019 edition of the BIK bulletin to discover more about the actions of the recent awareness-raising campaign.