Jointly, European Schoolnet and INHOPE support the Insafe network of Safer Internet Centres in responding to the latest online issues, helping to promote the many opportunities the online world offers, while also addressing the challenges. And while Europe’s children and youth are the main beneficiaries of this work, the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) initiative also reaches out to, and collaborates with, a range of other stakeholders – parents and carers, teachers and educators, researchers, industry, civil society, decision makers and law enforcement – reflecting the fact that we all have a role to play in creating a better internet. Additionally, the actions conducted in the framework of Better Internet for Kids frequently reach beyond Europe, impacting upon safer and better internet approaches right across the globe.
Against a demanding backdrop featuring profound challenges and changes, as well as unprecedented geopolitical developments, 2023 was nonetheless a positive year in terms of developments for child safety online, such as:
- The Digital Services Act (DSA) entered into force for the Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) and Very Large Online Search Engines (VLOSEs) in 2023, which represents a significant and tangible step forward for child protection online, with the Commission taking responsibility for ensuring that these largest firms follow the new rules. A booklet explaining the protection of minors under the DSA is available, aiming to ensure that children, carers and educators are well aware of their rights under the DSA and of the practical impact of the new rules. Furthermore, a Digital Services Act Stakeholder event took place in June 2023, providing a valuable opportunity for stakeholder to contribute their insights for the implementation of the DSA, and reflect on the diverse challenges and opportunities associated with digital services.
- In May 2023, the European strategy for a better internet for kids (BIK+), supporting the implementation of the DSA with the aim of better protecting, empowering and respecting children and young people online, celebrated its first anniversary. As part of the celebrations, a fourth edition of the BIK Policy Map was launched, providing a regular review of the implementation and achievements of policy in this area, also at Member State level.
- In late 2023, political agreement was reached on the EU’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act, the first-ever comprehensive legal framework on AI worldwide. Additionally, the Commission also adopted a strategy on Web 4.0 and virtual worlds. Both texts are aiming to build an innovative, trustworthy, inclusive digital environment for all.
A few highlights of 2023
The European Union designated 2023 as the European Year of Skills (running until 9 May 2024) in recognition of the critical importance of equipping people with the competences they need to succeed in an increasingly digitalised world, supporting the EU’s ambitious Digital Decade plans for 80 per cent of all adults to have basic digital skills by 2030.
To exemplify the efforts in ensuring that children and young people are equipped with the skills and tools they need to thrive online, the annual celebration of Safer Internet Day (SID) in February 2023 again saw stakeholders across the world unite with the common aim of creating a better digital world for children and young people. Both Vice-President Dubravka Šuica, Commissioner for Democracy and Demography, and Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market acknowledged the day with dedicated messages on social media, and a plethora of BIK Youth Ambassadors and youth panellists from different countries were all featured in three short videos exchanging views on the opportunities and challenges of the digital world. A new, celebratory version of the Safer Internet Day promotional video was launched. The video has gathered over 6,400 views and is now available with subtitles in 13 languages. In addition, a new Better Internet for Kids Teacher corner was launched as a special section of the BIK platform. This resource is designed for teachers, educators and other adults working with young people to assist them in supporting youth to navigate their digital world safely and positively, and it is regularly updated to reflect emerging issues.
The BIK+ strategy sets out clear priorities for young people with special or specific needs, or with a range of vulnerabilities, with the overarching aim to ensure that no one is left behind. Therefore, 2023 placed a focus on how to respond to online risks to children and young people in vulnerable groups. Over the year, a mapping of Safer Internet Centres initiatives targeting vulnerable youth was conducted, to pinpoint the existing resources among the network and highlight areas for further development and improvement. This work complements previous BIK good practice guides Children and young people with disabilities in an online world (March 2021) and Classifying and responding to online risk to children (February 2023).
The 2023 edition of the Safer Internet Forum (SIF) provided an opportunity to focus on pillars two and three of the BIK+ strategy, exploring digital empowerment and active participation as it relates to children and young people. The event was once again organised in a youth-led manner, with a remarkable group of 41 young people from 23 different European countries playing an active role in the planning, preparation and delivery of the Forum through the customary SIF Youth Advisory Group (YAG) and BIK Youth Panel. During SIF, discussions focused on digital skills development, mental health and well-being, new and emerging technologies such as the metaverse, immersive realities and generative AI (artificial intelligence) and content creation.
BIK Youth were especially active throughout the whole year. In addition to the previously mentioned SID and SIF, BIK Youth Ambassadors took part in a wide range of online and in-person events, exchanging views and voicing their opinions on how to ensure a safer, better online experience for young people. For example, BIK Youth Ambassador João co-moderated a session on youth participation and empowerment, focusing especially on how to involve children and young people from vulnerable backgrounds at the 2023 Internet Governance Forum in Japan. BIK Youth Ambassadors Adrian and Molly participated in an EU Youth Design Ham in Brussels, organised by Meta in collaboration with Think Young. BIK Youth Ambassador Kathrin was a keynote speaker at the ECPAT International Conference, and shared her views on youth participation and the EU rules for protecting minors online.
Discover more about youth involvement in 2023 in this child-friendly infographic.
2024 is foreseen to be another year of challenges, change, and unanticipated geopolitical developments, while phenomena such as disinformation are likely to continue to rise in relation to the upcoming European elections in June 2024. While a lot has been accomplished over the past year, further effort is still needed to implement the BIK+ strategy in Europe and continue building a safe, respectful, and inclusive online experience for all through various actions and agenda priorities.
A new child and youth consumer protection campaign will launch, building on evidence-based analyses of (manipulative) digital marketing practices targeted at children and youth, and aiming to shed light on the responsibilities of companies and online platforms to safeguard young consumers from online influences.
A focus on media literacy is also foreseen. Starting with some piloting activities in a number of European countries between March and April 2024, again based on an evidence-based mapping of existing initiatives, it will be further developed into an EU-wide media literacy campaign later in the year.
Additionally, the drive to create an EU Code of Conduct for the age-appropriate design of digital products and services will continue this year, and new evidence-based toolkits to support age assurance and age verification on online platforms will be developed.
In summary, in 2024 we must continue to ensure that children and young people (and those that have a responsibility to care for and support them) know how to use the online content and services at their disposal safely and effectively, have opportunities to develop good media literacy skills, and have a robust support network to fall back on should things go wrong.
Discover more by browsing through the full report below:
Alternatively, download a PDF version of the 2023 review of the year.
Additionally, you can browse BIK annual reports from previous years.