2020 was a year like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered wide-ranging transformations in the digital environment, both in terms of opportunities and risks. It showed us first-hand that digital technologies are an excellent medium to enable the greatest number of citizens – and especially children and young people – to find information, communicate, socialise, learn and play, often in ways that are not possible to the same extent in their non-digital lives. For many citizens, young and old, technology has provided a lifeline during the pandemic, offering a means to stay connected with family and friends, access services and provisions, and support their wellbeing and mental health.
Yet, with this realisation that our societies are more digital than ever came a growing awareness that many online tools and services are often not designed with the best interests of children and young people in mind. This observation manifested itself concretely as a range of online issues and threats rose in prominence in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, as we collectively became increasingly dependent on digital means of communication. For example, the near-overnight move to emergency remote teaching and learning for many presented challenges for learners, teachers and families alike, with schools and colleges scrabbling to address policy and infrastructure concerns.
Issues pertaining to misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories – particularly with regards to public health matters – took centre stage. As we collectively spent an increased amount of time online, privacy concerns also gained more attention. Equally, economically motivated cybercrime (such as ransomware, phishing and payment fraud) rose, along with predatory behaviours against children online and the volume and circulation of child sexual abuse material (CSAM).
The European Commission’s Better Internet for Kids programme, and the network of Safer Internet Centres in Europe, with their long-standing history of supporting children and young people to use the internet safely, responsibly, critically and creatively, were perfectly poised to react to this new reality. Safer Internet Centres reacted swiftly, adapting their service offerings to respond to the changing landscape, promoting existing resources on a range of online safety issues, creating new targeted resources to specifically respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic, switching face-to-face trainings to the online environment, and finding new and innovative ways to continue offering critical support services, such as helplines and hotlines, when physical offices could not be accessed.
Despite the challenges, 2020 saw many developments and new initiatives under the Better Internet for Kids umbrella – many of which are discussed in more detail in the report.
To give some examples, on Safer Internet Day (SID) 2020 the Youth Pledge for a Better Internet was launched; a year-long initiative which has aimed to make terms and conditions more user friendly, in collaboration with industry partners from the Alliance to better protect minors online. In August, the European Commission adopted an EU strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse. The strategy establishes a framework for EU action for the period 2020-2025, to provide a comprehensive response to the issue of child sexual abuse, both online and offline. INHOPE, the International Association of Internet Hotlines, will play a key role in driving this work forward, and hosted a multi-stakeholder panel discussion with experts from hotlines, law enforcement agencies, industry and the European Commission. The Safer Internet Forum (SIF) in November, held online for the first time with a record number of participants, placed a focus on inclusivity and accessibility for children and young people online. November also saw the publication of a third iteration of the Better Internet for Kids Policy Map, created to compare and exchange knowledge on policy making and implementation in EU Member States on the themes and recommendations of the European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children (or BIK Strategy) first set out by the European Commission in May 2012. This updated version examined the further implementation of the BIK Strategy in 30 European countries, including all EU Member States, Iceland, Norway and the United Kingdom.
Discover more by browsing through the full report below.
Alternatively, download a PDF version of the 2020 review of the year.