In the spotlight: Safer Internet Centres Austria and Malta

As part of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) Quality Assurance Programme (QAP), the Insafe-INHOPE Coordination Teams are jointly conducting a set of fifteen country visits to national Safer Internet Centres (SICs) to better understand what is happening in the Member States: monitoring emerging issues and challenges, identifying good practices to be shared, and harvesting the results of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) policy. On 15-16 January 2024, the Insafe-INHOPE coordination team organised an online cluster meeting with the Austrian and Maltese SICs.

Date 2024-05-02 Author BIK Team Topic media literacy/education Audience media specialist, organisations and industry, research, policy and decision makers

The online cluster meeting showed that both SICs have established strong collaborations with national stakeholders, spanning government agencies, civil society, law enforcement and industry. In this context, the Department of Youth Policy of the Federal Chancellery Austria, along with the Federal Ministry of Education and its Digital Learning Department, were represented as the Austrian SIC’s stakeholders during the meeting. On the other hand, the Maltese SIC (Safer Internet Centre), Agenzija Sedqa, the national agency against drug and alcohol abuse and gambling problems, and the Interministerial Committee for Anti-Human Trafficking were among the highlights. The relationship between the SICs and these stakeholders can be summarised as follows:  

  • The Department of Youth Policy, Federal Chancellery Austria: The Department of Youth Policy refers to the resources and knowledge of the Austrian SIC when they need more information on online safety and media literacy, and they also promote Saferinternet. at actively. This collaboration extends to joint initiatives such as producing materials, organising workshops, and organising networking meetings in federal states. Additionally, the pillars of the BIK+ strategy endorsed by the Federal Chancellery underline the significance of Safer internet. as a valuable resource. Hence, the Federal Chancellery is the largest co-financing partner of the Saferinternet.at. 
  • Department of Digital Learning, The Federal Ministry of Education: The cooperation between the Austrian SIC and the Ministry of Education became prominent in 2010 as social media platforms started to gain popularity among young people. In addition, in 2020, the Ministry of Education shifted its focus toward digitalising schools. In this context, the Ministry commissions the Austrian SIC to produce teaching materials on digitalisation and safe internet use. Furthermore, a digital devices initiative launched by the Ministry in 2021 aimed to equip all eligible schools with digital devices and Safer internet. provided appropriate awareness-raising materials to be installed on these devices. Finally, in 2023, a new subject entitled digital basic education has become mandatory in Austria, and the Saferinternet.at also provides exercises and materials aligned with the curriculum of this subject that can be used by teachers. 
  • Agenzija Sedqa: The collaboration between the Maltese SIC BeSmartOnline! and Agenzija Sedqa specifically focuses on their prevention services. One such prevention service, the SAFE Programme, now includes topics related to technology use, mental health and wellbeing, and drug, alcohol, and gambling addictions. This expansion of topics results from the collaboration between the Maltese SIC and Agenzija Sedqa.  
  • Interministerial Committee for Anti-Human Trafficking: Over the past two years, the Maltese SIC has actively participated in an interministerial committee organised by the Human Rights Directorate in Malta. The committee has a specific focus on developing a human trafficking strategy for Malta through research conducted by the Council of Europe. The Maltese SIC gives a particular emphasis on children, who are often targeted by human traffickers, with the internet serving as a common tool for online grooming. In this context, a leaflet was produced and disseminated to schools to raise awareness about the risks of online exploitation of children. These risks include sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, domestic servitude and also children who are involved in petty crimes. 

Update from the Safer Internet Centre consortiums 

Austria 

The Austrian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) consortium comprises four partners. The consortium coordinator, the Austrian Institute for Applied Telecommunications (ÖIAT) and Internet Service Providers Austria (ISPA) operate the awareness centre (including youth participation), while SOS Kinderdorf and NIC.AT provides the helpline and hotline services, respectively. 

The awareness centre aims to be an information hub for safe and responsible internet use for children, young people, parents, and educators. As such Saferinternet.at is one of the most prominent sources of awareness-raising information and resources in the country. It is funded by the Digital Europe/Safer Internet Programme of the EU, Federal Chancellery, Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research, Federal Ministry of Finance, A1 and Meta

The Saferinternet. at website focuses on four target groups (teachers, parents, youth, and youth workers) and covers 12 topics with a dedicated webpage for each (cyberbullying, digital games, cell phones & internet, social networks, data protection, information literacy, self-presentation, problematic content, copyrights, viruses, spam & co, online shopping, internet fraud). 

Some of the awareness-raising resources highlighted during this cluster meeting by the Austrian SIC included:   

  • Privacy guidelines: Provides step-by-step instructions in the form of slides for Android and iOS versions of the most popular online services and applications. 
  • Quizzes and scavenger hunts: Over 30 quizzes and four scavenger hunts for young people to self-evaluate and improve their knowledge of various internet safety topics. 
  • Video parenting guide - Ask Barbara: A collection of 23 video blogs providing tips and answering common parenting questions regarding young people's digital lives. The videos are categorised into three age groups (0-5, 6-12, 13-18) and partially provided with Arabic, Bosnian, Croatian, English, German, Serbian and Turkish subtitles. 
  • Youth Internet Monitor: Safer internet. With the support of the Federal Chancellery, the Youth Internet Monitor annually publishes an infographic identifying the favourite social media channels among young Austrians. The publication is noted to be extremely popular.
  • The Online Zoo: The Online Zoo is a children’s book first published in 2016 designed to foster media literacy and provide age-appropriate information for 4 to 9-year-olds was distributed more than 10,000 times to schools and families. A media education companion handbook for the Online Zoo was produced by ISPA in 2017. Since its creation, the book has been translated into 13 languages.  

Saferinternet.at also offers a brochure service, which includes 84 informative brochures. These can be downloaded as an electronic copy or requested in print for free (depending on availability). Since 1 January 2022, 457,000 brochures have been distributed.  

Additionally, the awareness centre provides workshops to a variety of target groups. A network of safer internet trainers from across the country offer these workshops. Since 1 January 2022, a total of 6,700 workshops (including 5,800 workshops in schools) were offered, reaching 139,900 participants. In addition to workshops, 203 events attracting 6,300 participants were (co)organised by the awareness centre over the past two years. 

The awareness centre has facilitated a youth panel that includes 314 active youth panellists since 1 January 2022. In that period, 28 youth panel activities were organised. Facilitating the youth panel provides the awareness centre a chance to create a dialogue with the young people on trends, opportunities and risks associated with the internet and digital media. Such information feeds directly into the resources and workshops of the awareness centre. 

The helpline service of the Austrian SIC, Rat auf Draht, is the most widely recognised helpline service in the country. The service is offered anonymously, toll-free and on a 24-hour basis throughout the week via the telephone number 147. The counselling service is also offered over chat on weekdays between 18:00 – 20:00 CEST. This option is frequently used by youth with speech impairments and young adults with mental impairments. 

The helpline service is primarily intended for children, youth, and young adults. However, it was also noted that the service operates as a hub for the public psychosocial network, offering optional conference calls to child and youth welfare centres, child and violence protection centres, crisis intervention centres, hospitals, emergency centres, police, and so on.  

The Austrian SIC hotline service, Stopline, was founded by ISPA in 1998 and operated by the Austrian domain registry nic.at. The hotline fights against child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) and national socialism. It was noted that CSAM constitutes the main part of the hotline's work; national socialism topics are rare, but these are covered because Austrian regulations prohibit certain content related to this topic. 

Malta 

The project is co-funded by the European Commission's Connecting Europe Facility (CEF)  is currently implemented through a consortium coordinated by the Foundation for Social Welfare Services (FSWS) and brings together the Office of the Commissioner for Children, the Directorate for Learning and Assessment Programmes (DLAP) and the Malta Police Force - Cyber Crime Unit. All partners work together to raise awareness and educate children and teens, parents/carers, and educators on the safer use of the Internet. 

The Maltese SIC's awareness centre carries out various activities, such as information sessions, the Company Roadshow, and youth participation activities, and produces various awareness-raising materials.  

During this cluster meeting, the awareness centre highlighted sessions tailored for various target groups: 

  • An event was organised for children in care between the ages of 5 and 18. The event included a discussion followed by a scavenger hunt on the theme of online safety.  
  • A series of in-person sessions for young people with disabilities and children in care was organised in collaboration with Agenzija Sapport and Looked After Children.
  • Online and in-person information sessions were organised for parents to support them with tips and knowledge on parenting in the digital age. The online sessions were designed in the format of an online café and served as support groups for parents.  

Overall, since the launch of the current project cycle in October 2022, 65 sessions targeting adults and 95 sessions targeting children and young people were organised. A total of 31 media appearances have been noted. 

The awareness centre also highlighted some of its resources. Among these, a Maltese translation of the Kiko and the Manymes book by the Council of Europe and the Angry Wolf (Il-Lupu Rrabjat) children’s books were highlighted. Other resources noted during the meeting included:

It was also noted that many of these resources are adaptations from the other SICs in the network, as the awareness centre aims to benefit from the valuable resources of the other centres in the network. 

The Youth panel of the Maltese SIC is actively run by the Office for the Commissioner of Children. The Maltese youth panel consists of 12 members who meet monthly. The youth panellists are given the option to leave or remain yearly. To replace those who left, an annual call is launched.  

In addition to the youth panel, the awareness centre has a group of youth ambassadors. Unlike the youth panel, these ambassadors act as child rights advocates. One of the ambassadors is also a part of the youth panel to establish a link between the two groups. The youth ambassadors have met 5 times within the last year. 

The helpline is the national helpline for Malta and offers its services through a free telephone number, 179. The helpline is heavily involved in awareness-raising efforts and has a close working relationship with the Maltese police and other child protection and welfare agencies. 

The helpline provides support for young people and their parents encountering harmful content (grooming), conduct (cyberbullying) and web content by one-to-one conversations via telephone, email, and online chat services with trained counsellors on online-related issues, drawing up operating guidelines and providing qualitative feedback at European level. 

Operated by the Foundation for Social Welfare Services (FSWS), the Maltese SIC hotline, Child Web Alert, collects reports of content which is illegal by Maltese legislation via an online form. Hotline analysts review such content and refer it accordingly to the Maltese Cyber Crime Unit. Given that the hotline is a member of INHOPE, the reports also refer to the hotline of the hosting country. The hotline consists of two analysts certified by the INHOPE content assessment training. Additionally, the hotline has a memorandum of understanding with the Malta Police Force and a Standards of Procedures with the Cybercrime Unit.  

Further information about the Austrian and Maltese Safer Internet Centres can be found on the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) public portal, including links to their national websites and other contact information. Similar information can be found on the BIK portal for all Safer Internet Centres in Europe.

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