With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of people in Greece were suddenly obliged to use the internet for all manner of everyday activities such as paying bills or contacting loved ones. This new situation, which occurred with very little warning, created a real need to use the internet and those that were not overly accustomed to digital technologies, and the elderly especially, quickly had to familiarise themselves with this new reality.
At the beginning of the lockdown, the Greek Safer Internet Centre's helpline received many calls, including several relating to various technical issues. Helpline cases also showed that people were also beginning to experience problems with excessive use of technology and that there was often a lack of critical thinking when online. Conversely, however, the volume of contacts that the helpline received regarding online gaming significantly reduced when compared to previous periods. Parents didn't know how to keep their children busy at home and many turned to the internet as a solution. Furthermore, for the first time, the SIC experienced a generation of very young kids (under 5 years old) using educational apps on tablets and watching children's TV programs for long periods of time. The effects of this, whether positive or negative, will undoubtedly be seen in the future.
The Greek SIC had to adjust to this new reality, trying to support and empower parents as they tried to adapt to the new situation and new resources were launched regarding positive content for children and parental controls. During this time, the SIC's priority wasn't so much about the time which children were spending on the internet, but more about the quality of what they were seeing on the web and how can they remain safe, including the application of critical thinking skills.
In addition, for the first time in Greece, students began taking e-classes. The need for everyone to adjust to this new situation came with a range of challenges such as how to use e-classes, how to connect, and similar. The protection of personal data also emerged as a major issue during the pandemic. Distance learning and massive online access created the need for in-depth information about what the new regulation on personal data protection provides and how personal data protection can be combined with public health protection. E-learning also created the need to educate teachers and children on intellectual property.
Fake news was another issue of key concern. The general feeling of insecurity as brought about by the pandemic contributed to the rapid spread of misinformation and rumours, especially through social media. Service providers such as Google, Facebook and YouTube are trying to intensify their measures against the dissemination of fake news but "closed groups" on social media services such as messenger and WhatsApp remain problematic. The Safer Internet Centre also noticed a rise in cyberbullying aimed at teachers; for example, humiliating videos of educators teaching online went viral on social media. In addition, the helpline received many calls regarding grooming and sexting.
In summary, the Greek Safer Internet Centre responded to the crisis by:
- Remaining in full operation. Equally during this period, visitors to the SIC's website increased by 250 per cent.
- Providing continuous information and advice on online risks and the urgent issues that arose during this period through social media, the press, webinars, and similar. A dedicated COVID-19 webpage was also created on the SIC's website.
- Making constant suggestions for positive content and family entertainment during the lockdown.
- Cooperating with organisations such as Europol and Amber Alert Europe to adapt and promote relevant online safety resources in Greece.
- Launching new resources and offering live webinars to educators, in cooperation with the Greek Personal Data Authority and the Hellenic Copyright Organisation.
- Uploading material to a website for the training of citizens in matters of online safety, as created by the Ministry of Digital Security.
- Implementing educational webinars addressing the new needs of parents, with the cooperation of the Region and Governor of Attica.
Find out more information about the work of the Greek Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.