Encouraging kind and respectful communication online for Safer Internet Day 2020

Safer Internet Day (SID) 2020 is fast approaching. On Tuesday, 11 February 2020, we will be millions around the globe, united to inspire positive change online. The campaign's slogan, "Together for a better internet", is a call to action for all stakeholders to join together and play their part in creating a better internet for everyone. A fundamental objective of the day is to engage all stakeholders in a concerted effort to encourage respectful interactions online, especially among the youngest users.

Children and young people – who account for no less than a third of internet users worldwide – have specific vulnerabilities online, and consequently require specific measures to ensure that the digital world is a place of opportunities and fulfilment for them. Online violence can manifest itself in many ways for this group, namely through cyberbullying, online hate speech, doxing, the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, and more.

If these issues existed well before the advent of social networks and online games, they then escalated. This has to do with the fact that the kind of abuse that takes place online happens in front of a much wider audience, which increases the damage inflicted to the victim and in turn, the attacker's satisfaction. Moreover, on social media, people can simply "hide behind the protective cloak of an anonymous username", and do not face the same consequences as for abuse perpetuated offline. There is, however, a variety of measures children and young people can take when they are online, in order to prevent and mitigate these risks.

When personally targeted by online abuse, they should be aware of the appropriate behaviours to adopt. It is paramount to ensure that children and young people in these situations realise that they are not to blame for what is happening to them. They should also avoid retaliating, but instead tell the perpetrator to stop, conserve proof of the abuse, make use of the reporting tools provided by the online platform, and reach out to a trusted adult for support. It is also important to encourage children to not remain a passive bystander when they witness incidents online.

Advice for parents and carers

It goes without saying that children and young people need proper guidance to be able to adopt the right behaviours online. Parents and carers play a key role in that regard, and it is therefore fundamental that they remain open to hearing their children's concerns and be willing to provide constructive help. Indeed, when their children report having had disturbing experiences online, too many parents still have the reflex to tell them to reduce or delete their online presence – which, at the end of the day, is nothing but a double punishment for the child – or do not take the concerns raised seriously, due to the online nature of the harm.

Instead, parents and carers should be able to remain aware of and up-to-date with the digital environment that younger users evolve in, and of how their child spends their time online accordingly. In that regard, a good starting point for parents willing to learn more about the platforms their children use is the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) guide to 100+ online services.

Based on this knowledge, parents should engage in a meaningful dialogue with their child, setting rules in accordance with them, and educating them to appropriate responses and safe online behaviours. To achieve these, parents should also do some self-reflection regarding their own behaviour online and strive to be digital role models for their children.

For further guidance, parents and carers can consult the following Safer Internet Day resources:

All these resources – and more – are available in the Safer Internet Day gallery of educational resources, which features materials for children of all ages, in a wide range of European languages.

Advice for teachers and educators

Teachers, educators and social workers should also, as much as possible, encourage parents to get involved in their children's lives on the internet, and of course, make them aware of any incident they might have heard of. Moreover, teachers and educators play a key role themselves in teaching children about safe and appropriate online behaviours. They do so, first and foremost by promoting a culture of respect and inclusivity in the classroom, thereby forging their pupils' behaviours in other aspects of their lives, including in the digital environment. But teachers and educators would be wrong to stop there; more and more of them now teach digital citizenship and online safety in the classroom, whether it is during dedicated time slots, or by embedding such themes in the general curriculum. Another successful strategy to explore is the development of peer mentoring and peer awareness strategies to promote kindness and respect on the internet.

For further guidance, teachers and educators can consult the following Safer Internet Day resources:

  • The French serious game We all have rights online: Respect!, which you can use in your classroom with students aged 7-12, to educate them about their rights and responsibilities online.
  • Be nice, a webpage in Icelandic, English and Polish, developed by the Icelandic SIC for teachers working with pupils above the age of 6 on the topic of discrimination online.
  • The SHARE RESPECT – Stop online hate speech campaign in Luxembourg, including information, awareness material, and a website on various subtopics of hate speech, for students above the age of 7.
  • Communicate with respect, an e-book of activities by the Greek SIC, to use with children aged 5-10, on how to communicate online with respect.
  • The "But…" lesson plan, in German, for teachers working with children above the age of 12 and willing to lead discussions about racism and stereotypes online.

All these resources – and more – are available in the Safer Internet Day gallery of educational resources, which features materials for children of all ages, in a wide range of European languages.

Recommendations for wider stakeholders – industry representatives and decision makers

At a different level, companies operating online services, including social networks and online games, also have a responsibility to promote kindness and respect on their platforms, and to tackle any form of abuse or offensive content. They can do so by creating and promoting positive online content, and by empowering users to respond to any issues by providing clear safety advice, a range of easy-to-use safety tools, and quick access to support if things do go wrong. Some recent promising developments are also worth pointing out, notably regarding the wider use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to moderate content, and to nudge users towards more respectful online communication.

Finally, decision makers and politicians' role is to provide a culture in which all of the above can function and thrive - by ensuring that there are opportunities in the curriculum for children and young people to learn about safe and appropriate online behaviours, by making sure that parents and carers have access to the relevant information and support on these issues, and by holding the industry accountable, notably through self-regulation schemes.

We invite you all to join the movement and play your part for a better internet, on the next edition of Safer Internet Day on Tuesday, 11 February 2020.

Find further information on www.saferinternetday.org, a global online community platform where countries and international organisations showcase the events and the actions they will conduct locally, nationally and internationally for Safer Internet Day.

Additionally, keep an eye on the official Safer Internet Day social media channels on Facebook and Twitter.


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