Many factors stemming from the current crisis are also exposing children and young people to heightened online risks. The global lockdown means that a certain portion of criminal activities have migrated online, generating a sudden rise in cybercrime as reported by Europol. Moreover, according to the Council of Europe (CoE), children and young people who spend more time online while simultaneously suffering from isolation may be more prone to risky behaviours.
The spread of misinformation and disinformation related to the pandemic has become a major concern for many, including the BIK Youth Ambassadors who unanimously recommended, like Maria from Portugal, "being very careful with fake news". Manahil, from Germany, added that "it is important to only listen to the local authorities when it comes to the coronavirus", a view echoed by Lina, from Greece, who also recommended keeping an eye on the website of the World Health Organization (WHO), and Minna from Austria, according to whom double-checking coronavirus-related information before believing anything is key. As Lili from Austria summarises it, "before you spread information around, read it three times, analyse it twice, and ask yourself whether that piece of information you're about to share is really that relevant for everyone".
Beyond the problems related to the spread of inaccurate and/or simply dishonest news, we also need to consider those linked to "too much" news, in a context where most of us are stuck at home and spend considerable time on social media, and where breaking news has become the new normal, and a daily occurrence. The BIK Youth Ambassadors are not the only ones complaining about this phenomenon – the World Health Organization even gave it a name: infodemic.
Joana from Portugal advocated for a "quality over quantity" approach to news consumption, while keeping track of the time spent online. As Matěj from the Czech Republic put it, "make sure not to worry too much about ‘estimates and assumptions', as the media often tend to use these to talk about the current situation. In these times, it's more necessary than ever to check the sources of the information you are getting. I recommend getting updates on the situation from your national government." Lorcán, from Ireland, added "don't take in too much news about the coronavirus – it can be overpowering. And be mindful of the source of the information too; check that it is reliable".
A consequence of the overconsumption of news is the issue of simply spending too much time online. On that note, Lorcán recommended "don't over-rely on technology – take breaks and if your country's regulations allow it, get some fresh air, or any type of exercise". Katrina from Latvia elaborated on that, saying "I know it's hard, but try to keep up with your screen time and try to not be on your phone more than five hours a day (ideally max two to three hours a day, but it will be easier if you keep it realistic)". This view was also echoed by Minna from Austria, "don't fall into the depths of the internet – know when enough phone/laptop/internet time is enough".
One last concern shared by several BIK Youth Ambassadors is the increased threat posed by online scams. Andreas from Cyprus said that young people "must be very careful with phishing emails and scams, because they are all over the internet these days". How? Charampoulos from Greece recommended to "only use official App Stores and streaming platforms" and João from Portugal added "turn off webcams and mics after online calls – while on a call, be wise about what you share of yourself and your surroundings – be sure to open links only from people you trust, like your teacher and from an email/account you recognise – have your antivirus, operating system and apps updated because new privacy and security patches are rolled out everyday".
On BIK, we'll be bringing you a range of articles and insights on the opportunities and challenges of being online during COVID-19 for the duration of the crisis. Keep checking the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal and follow our social channels on Twitter (@Insafenetwork and @SafeInternetDay) and Facebook (@SaferInternet and @SaferInternetDay) for the latest news, information, advice and resources from the Insafe network and from other stakeholder organisations on staying safe online during the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition, for localised help and support in responding to some of the online challenges which COVID-19 might present, please do reach out to your national Safer Internet Centre (SIC) – find profile information and contact details on the BIK portal. In addition to a range of articles and resources in national languages, European Safer Internet Centres also provide helpline services allowing children and young people, and parents and carers, to access personalised advice and support.