Exploring digital respect as an antidote to online violence at Safer Internet Forum 2019

On Thursday, 21 November 2019, the Safer Internet Forum (SIF) took place in Brussels Belgium. With a theme of "From online violence to digital respect", it also celebrated 20 years of safer/better internet funding by the European Commission.

Exploring the multiple facets of online violence at Safer Internet Forum 2019

The 2019 edition of SIF explored the topic of online violence and its various forms, and how digital respect can act as an antidote to this phenomenon. This focus echoed the European Commission's #DigitalRespect4Her campaign, launched earlier in 2019, which strives to raise awareness of the gender-based violence girls and young women experience on the internet, and to promote an inclusive and respectful online culture for all EU citizens – a priority for the European Commission. Children and young people in particular should feel safe and respected online; equally, they should feel able and empowered to be active public participants in digital life.

In this context, Thordis Elva, writer, speaker and journalist known for her TED Talk "Our story of rape and reconciliation" hosted the opening keynote session, looking at the key issues at stake, including online hate speech, image-based sexual violence, and other forms of technology-facilitated gender-based violence. She also discussed the solutions brought to these issues, looking in particular into the role of policymakers and regulators, and shared some examples of successful campaigns and good practice in that regard.

A series of deep dive sessions examined the phenomenon of online violence from different angles (such as online violence and misogyny in gaming, sexual violence against men and boys) and also presented some interesting and innovative solutions to the phenomenon, such as the deShame project to prevent sexual harassment among young people, the SELMA project to tackle online hate speech with young people, and using artificial intelligence (AI) against online violence.

Focusing on young people's experiences of online violence

One of the aims of the day was to get a better understanding of how children and young people experience violence in the digital world, and how they would like to see adults solve these issues. To do so, what better way than asking the young people themselves? For this reason, young people were at the heart of two plenary sessions during this iteration of SIF.

On the one hand, the 2019 BIK Youth panellists shaped a "flipped consultation"; a lively and highly-interactive session in which they took participants on a more upbeat journey showing how young people – in cooperation with other stakeholders – can make a positive difference.

Another session looked at the ways young people have used social media to bring about change, through the stories of three young activists who have faced adversity online but have dealt with it by using digital technology and social media to effect positive change:

  • Emma Holten, who was a victim of non-consensual pornography back in 2011, and who launched an online campaign, called CONSENT, to successfully raise awareness of the issues.
  • Gina Martin, who has experienced upskirting and successfully campaigned to make it illegal in the UK, inspiring other young women across the world to do the same and therefore launching a global movement.
  • Sara Sjölander, who worked for Näthatshjälpen, a platform where victims of online hate and harassment can get support and advice on specific problems they are encountering.

Marking INHOPE's 20 years of existence

The INHOPE network of hotlines turned 20 this year and, on the occasion of Safer Internet Forum 2019, the organisation hosted a session looking back on what has been achieved over this timeframe, in terms of combatting illegal online content, and more specifically child sexual abuse material (CSAM). It featured contributions from long-standing INHOPE hotlines, European Commission representatives, industry stakeholders and child welfare professionals. INHOPE has used the lessons learnt to shape future activities and a new vision.

For more information about the Safer Internet Forum 2019, visit https://www.betterinternetforkids.eu/sif; you can also learn more about past editions of SIF at the same location. And check out #SaferInternetForum and #SIF2019 on social media for news from the day.

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