Safer Internet Day misses the mark, the media follows suit
Regardless of how good the intentions, initiatives like Safer Internet Day consistently get hijacked by headlines designed to get everyone agitated and paranoid. Now in its eighth year, this EU initiative doesn't seem to do much more than make everyone worry that there's a danger hiding around every Internet corner. But is that the point of it?
Whilst the intentions might be good, the approach is misguided and ill conceived. There's some very interesting data being published but for some reason this isn't what Safer Internet Day has been highlighting. Consequently, the media reporting has been guilty of 'getting the wrong end of the stick'.
Rather than scaring parents into hauling their kids away from the internet and online gaming, there is a need to educate. But the facts and figures can always seem more 'shocking', especially when taken in isolation. Some of the reports on Safer Internet Day have been misleading at best - taking statistics out of context and giving them an unnecessary negative spin. Two examples:
Here's our very own example. Quoting the EU Kids Online survey of 25,000 children and parents across 25 European countries, the following can be said: '38 percent of girls aged between 13 and 16 use a webcam on the internet.' That isn't necessarily a problem, but when framed with details of the various online evils, it suddenly becomes worrying. In reality, it isn't worrying in the slightest.
Then there's the information which is actually interesting and insightful. The 170 page report offers up some recurring themes that, on the whole, are rather encouraging. Of course, it's no secret that the internet is smattered with material that is upsetting and damaging to kids. The main issue is that we underestimate them is in their ability to process it and deal with it in very mature and responsible ways.
On online bullying, three quarters of children surveyed said they asked for help from others when they were bullied online. Six in ten would block people who bullied them and delete the messages.
On the issue of pornography being seen by children, at present the internet is only "as common a source" as TV, film and video. Furthermore, of those who have seen pornography online, 53 percent of those who were bothered by it told someone else the last time it happened; 33 percent told a friend, 25 percent told a parent and 25 percent simply stopped going online for a while.
There is a plethora of interesting information available in the report, something that Safer Internet Day, and consequently the mass media, have both ignored.
Elsewhere, the initiative fails by quoting generic and ill-targeted statistics and figures that really mean very little. Displayed across information packs are misleading statistics that quote information that for starters isn't even relevant but more damagingly isn't even about how children use the internet. A sampling:
The problem with this sort of information is it doesn't really tell us much about how youngsters use the internet, nor is most of it even about children. In taking these numbers and making them 'key facts' for Safer Internet Day, the whole iniative has shot itself in the foot. As a result we've seen irresponsibly written articles on internet safety which do more harm than good.
The real headline here is that things are improving. The statistics and figures, if looked at properly, show an increased awareness and conscientious approach to online safety by kids of all ages. So rather than taking the scaremongering approach, why not recognise this?
Indeed, the report itself highlights the area that needs the most improvement; parents, teachers and organisations. There is a staggering lack of awareness amongst the older generations as to just how savvy children can be online.
In summarising the ‘policy implications' of the report, EU Kids Online highlighted the importance of "awareness-raising for parents" as well as there being a "greater responsibility on industry to manage the nature of the risks children encounter" when online.
The kids are alright, but now it's time for everyone else to catch up with them.
Also, the accompanying video campaign for Safer Internet Day is just plain baffling:
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