Safer Internet Day (SID) has been a valued annual fixture since 2004, but this year’s event was perhaps more timely than most, framed as it was by several interesting pieces of research exploring the complex and fast-changing topic of Online Safety.
As usual, Microsoft hosted the keynote SID event in London, duly descended upon by nearly 150 people; including teachers, broadcast media, MPs and youngsters from three separate schools; Hampstead, QE2 Girl’s School and Rockmount Primary.
Naturally, it was the kids who provided most of the energy – variously piling into a selfie-booth, quizzing visitors about their own online behaviour and adorning a ‘pledge-board’ outside, before joining the rest of the audience in the auditorium for an absorbing session introduced by Microsoft’s Hugh Millward and hosted by Childnet’s Will Gardner.
The audience learned that this years’ SID activities were the end result of coordinated action in over 100 countries worldwide; ranging from themed school assemblies to movies, songs and messaging, all aimed at improving the number and nature of positive online interactions.
Edward Timpson, Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Children and Families, also had a timely reminder that these ideas needed to capture the public imagination if they were to have real impact on threats that today’s research showed were only growing in severity.
“Bullying has gone on for a very long time” he said “But cyber bullying is even more pernicious, it’s harder to escape from, and it can happen at any time on a device we keep in our pockets. So it’s easy to see how young people can feel so trapped by it.”
The stage was then taken by a whole posse of young people who had been involved in the making of a new video for SID called #Up2Us. Hosted by CBBC presenters Molly & Harvey, the panel discussed some of the key issues raised, including the video’s simple call to action; pledging to do something to make the Internet a nicer place. Some of the kids raised other issues too – for instance the way groups of friends choosing to block someone out of peer pressure could generate its own type of cyber bullying, with 25% of all kids feeling left out of group chats. Both the video and the debate were well received, suggesting that discussion remains one of the most effective tools of all in changing online attitudes.
The event closed with thanks for everyone who had taken part – not just the young people, teachers and schools present in the room, but the hundreds of organisations who had supported this year’s event across the UK. Finally, there was a stampede for tea and scones which, once again, the kids comprehensively won.
So all in all, SID proved a lively event that will kick off a whole series of Microsoft activities around Digital Literacy in the next few weeks. For instance, the British Library has just launched a fascinating and challenging project called ‘My Digital Rights’ to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Kids all across the UK will be encouraged to debate the same kind of issues raised during SID, using Skype in the Classroom to directly involve experts and interactive teaching plans, before a short-list of agreed clauses are incorporated into a ‘Magna Carta for the Digital Age’ later this year.
Finally, apart from our home-grown safety initiatives, Microsoft has also made real inroads in the US with their #Do1MoreThing campaign. Or for more information about SID in the UK, as well as the #Up2Us video, see www.saferinternet.org
New research shows many sides to the Online Safety debate
This year’s SID event was supported by several different, but equally thought-provoking pieces of research.
The first was undertaken by BBC Learning as part of its ‘Be Smart’ campaign, which revealed that 72% of 14-16 year-olds have witnessed or experienced cyber bullying, more than half of 11- to 16 year-olds (57%) have done something "risky" or anti-social online, whilst 14% admitted to sending pictures of themselves. All these are subjects that Microsoft has been closely involved with in the past year – most recently by funding IWF research into the possible impact of taking explicit selfies.
The BBC findings pretty much support results from last year’s netchildrengomobile research, which combined studies across 25 countries, before arriving at some concerning pan-European trends for 11-16 year olds compared to 2010:
· A 13% rise in exposure to hate messages (to 20%)
· A 9% rise in exposure to pro-anorexia sites (to 13%)
· A 7% rise in exposure to self-harm sites (to 11%)
· And a 7% rise in exposure to cyberbullying (to 12%)
· A 13% rise (to 17%) amongst 9-16’s that they were likely to be upset by something they had seen online.
Both sets of figures were thrown into sharp relief by findings from a third report, namely BT/Unicef’s ‘The Right Click’ released this week and revealing the following key findings from 1000 surveyed parents.
· Nearly one in five parents of 5 to 10-year-olds says their children have accessed inappropriate content online in the last year
· Only 43% of parents use parental controls to restrict what their children can access
· Around 22% of parents have yet to have any kind of online safety discussion with their kids
According to Hugh Millward, Microsoft’s Corporate Affairs Director, such figures only underline the importance of keeping an active dialogue open between kids, parents and teachers about all aspects of online safety.
“We all need a bit of assistance. We need the technology we use to make it just a little bit easier for us, simple tools like the ability to set up children's accounts with greater protection. We also need the experts, like ParentZone, to help us to understand a little more about parenting in an online world, and its similarities to parenting in an offline world.”