The event was hosted by Sabrina Vorbau from the Insafe Coordination Team, Sofia Rasgado from the Portuguese Safer Internet Centre (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia), Deborah Vassallo from the Maltese Safer Internet Centre (Foundation for Social Welfare Services) and Evangelia Daskalaki from the Greek Safer Internet Centre (Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas).
Right at the beginning of the pandemic, Safer Internet Centres (SICs) from the Insafe network reacted immediately by providing timely resources to keep the online space as safe as possible for children and young people, but also for adults.
The response from the Portuguese awareness centre, helpline and hotline
In Portugal, schools closed on 13 March 2020, and the SIC therefore had to quickly react and adapt its activities to accommodate this new reality. Classes were broadcast on national television and on YouTube, where a specific channel was opened with over 6,000 resources to support students and teachers. In the meantime, the Portuguese Ministry of Education developed their website by adding a range of digital resources to support schools in these unprecedented times.
The Safer Internet Centre participated in the launch of the initiative “Somos Tod@s Digitais” (in Portuguese, “We are all digital”) to support the citizens with the least developed digital skills in better dealing with the increased reliance on digital technologies brought about by social distancing. As part of this initiative, a helpline provided free support on the safe use of digital solutions. A range of tutorials on using basic applications such as Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, Messenger and Instagram were also made available online. A mini-series of six episodes was produced, featuring the adventures of two grandparents and their grandchildren when dealing with the digital world.
Through an intergenerational perspective, humour, and with the participation of well-known actors, the series promoted discussion on crucial topics such as hate speech, privacy, online dating, and so on.
For teachers and parents, a set of recommendations for safety in remote teaching was issued to all school clusters, especially concerning the most popular platforms such as Zoom, Moodle, Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom. The Portuguese SIC also promoted six webinars with well-known experts on ethical and safety issues.
The SIC also launched a nationwide awareness campaign targeted at students, #Estudoemcasa (in Portuguese, “Home study”), consisting primarily of animated videos promoting digital citizenship shown during the breaks of the online classes and broadcast on national television. In April, the SIC launched the campaign #SERJOVEMEMCASA (in Portuguese, “Being young at home”), with proposals for activities and workshops targeted to youth. As part of this action, the SIC held five webinars, dedicated to promoting youth mental health, including online addiction.
During the lockdown, the Portuguese helpline and hotline noticed an increase in cybercrimes (ransomware, phishing, sextortion). To cope with these worrying trends, the helpline shared messages on its social media channels with information about the various online threats to look out for, and tips on how to avoid or react to them. The helpline retained close cooperation with schools and organised several awareness sessions online for students in different parts of Portugal.
The response from the Maltese awareness centre, helpline and hotline
During the pandemic, the Maltese Safer Internet Centre launched two main campaigns: firstly, the SIC released a set of online safety tips for educators for remote teaching, and secondly, a range of visuals of children wearing masks with messages such as “respect”, “stay connected”, “keep active”, and “spread kindness not hate”. The visuals are available on the centre’s Facebook page and masks were distributed to children with the SIC’s logo and the messages.
The helpline and the hotline had to cope with several consequences stemming from the lockdown:
- The recommendations on keeping a balance between the online and offline lives became obsolete overnight.
- There was a general lack of privacy, both online and offline, especially for children and young people.
- An increase in younger children using apps was noticed, exposing them to potentially harmful content and contact.
- An increase in the production and sharing of self-made content was also noted.
In this context, the Maltese helpline noticed a number of trends, in particular an increase in cyberbullying cases, in different forms of hate speech, in disinformation, in grooming cases, and in self-harm and suicide ideation. From a hotline perspective, there was an increase in the number of reports, along with an increase in the child sexual abuse material (CSAM) available online. A particularly worrying trend, which was also observed in other countries, is that children produce this content themselves. Besides, predators were also more active online.
The response from the Greek awareness centre
After the outbreak of the pandemic, the Greek Safer Internet Centre published several articles and resources articulated around two objectives:
- Keeping people entertained with high-quality educational material – such as articles on the most famous museums one can visit from home, educational YouTube channels for young people, and so on.
- Creating more informative material on basic online safety practices – for example, booklets on screen time, basic online safety advice, Netflix parental controls, guides for older people, safe teleworking guidelines in cooperation with Europol, and so on. The SIC also offered webinars to parents, educators and children on disinformation, screen time, and basic information about staying safe online.
The statistics of the Greek awareness centre’s website proved interesting since they saw an extraordinary increase in traffic. The SIC also noticed a shift in the most popular topic from online gaming to privacy settings.
You can watch the recording of this IGF 2020 pre-event on YouTube. If you would like more information about the Internet Governance Forum, please visit the Better Internet for Kids portal and intgovforum.org.