Safer Internet Day: Protection takes a global turn

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Safer Internet Day, globally held on February 7, was created in 2004 with the support of the European Commission, designed to enjoy the benefits of the internet, while mitigating the risks of online safety. It’s now a part of a global digital safety calendar with organisations from around the world, working together for a safer, better online world.

Some of the focus has shifted to meet the challenges of keeping our kids and teenagers safe. As the pandemic increased screen time by 1.5 times, the younger generation of overconfident, digital natives have become more vulnerable to scams, cyberbullying and other security threats.

While the ever-changing realities of the online worlds, and increasing risks threaten our kid’s safety, it’s become a global concern, and we all have a responsibility and role to play in promoting and facilitating healthy digital behaviours in our kids, for future generations.

Despite the risks, the benefits of the technology and the internet are seemingly endless; access to information, learning and education tools and opportunities, socialisation, and bridging the gap between cultures, places and more. Kids are becoming exposed to unprecedented access to knowledge.

Today many of our kids are more immersed in technology and interconnectivity than they ever were, and as they develop with it, it’s important that they have the awareness, knowledge and tools to keep them safe now and moving forward.

Laws, Regulations and Government

While parents, caregivers, educators and even grandparents are on the front line for protecting kids online, the overarching responsibility lies within the policies, laws and infrastructure that backs and supports our online safety and privacy.

While in August 2020, Federal Government, the Department of Home Affairs released the updated Cyber Security Strategy 2020, the goalposts moved last year in the shadow of the major breaches of Optus and Medibank, and the new Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security has announced a new strategy for 2023, that will be devised through consultation of industry experts, to up the ante - vowing to be the most cyber secure nation in the world.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre, is also becoming a growing resource for policies and protections, including advice for families and businesses.

With the tagline Connect, Reflect Protect, the eSafety Commissioner website offers resources and guidelines in support and recognition of the 2023, global Safe Internet Day and its objectives.

Research and Educators

In October 2022, a Tech Trends research article, outlined the ‘Teacher and School Concerns, and Action on Elementary School Children Digital Safety. Undertaken by researchers in North Carolina, the study highlighted that teachers and educators were left to “support the digital safety of their students by developing their own professional knowledge of digital safety.”

It highlighted 5 areas of teacher concern for their student digital safety:

  • searching for inappropriate material and accessing inappropriate websites
  • inappropriate contact with strangers online, sharing information without perceiving risk
  • cyberbullying, inappropriate peer interaction, lack of awareness of digital footprint
  • lack of awareness of digital security and privacy
  • lack of parental monitoring of online activity

Ultimately, this work, among other scientific research, reflects teachers’ experience and is an important resource for legislators and others who develop internet safety guidelines.

Parents and Caregivers

In Australia research undertaken by the Kids Telethon Organisation, indicates that while cyberbullying is still one of the main concerns for parents, sexting is also a worry for parents of teenagers.

Additionally, a Family Zone survey of 2,000 parents revealed the two top concern
were negative or dangerous interactions on social media (55%) and exposure to inappropriate content (54%). Increased online times, outside of school work, is also adding to parent and caretaker woes.

Online safety for the parents and caregivers for our kids is a challenge, it requires vigilant awareness of current risks, knowing what activities and platforms they are engaging with, setting up parental controls, and having the difficult discussions about the risks, and making their kids aware of their own decisions and behaviours.

Just recently several platforms have started requesting kid’s birth dates for service provision, so kids also need to be aware of what they share online. While kids may have a limited digital footprint at the primary school age, there's still the fact they can be subject to tempting ads and recommendations.

Legislation for kid’s online privacy and safety, such as California’s new Child Privacy Law, is pushing companies behind services that our kids access,  to ensure compliance with the protection policies and legislations.

In Australia, the Online Safety Act, protects the privacy and safety of everyone, and while it’s not specifically designed for kids there are things we can all do to reduce the risks to our kids, while they make the most of the online world.

Talk to the kids about behaviours, risks and boundaries.

The bottom line is that while it’s challenging having regular discussions, and being aware of your own child's activities and behaviour online is critical. If you don’t know what to say, perhaps some FREE cybersecurity training for your own awareness and confidence.

Some of the great basic rules that we can discuss with our kids, that can offer them great foundations for keeping themselves safe are:

  • You don’t know who is on the other side of the screen - even if you think you do
  • Never share ANY personal information on the internet. If any platforms request name, age, address, phone number or other personal data, consult with an adult.
  • Where appropriate, use a nickname and an avatar for your online persona
  • Don’t enter debates or arguments online - it promotes bad behaviour and can set you up as a target
  • Don’t let anyone be abusive or argue with you, block them and speak to an adult.
  • Don’t ever arrange to or meet anyone in real life - it’s like stranger danger - you wouldn’t get into a stranger’s car.
  • Nothing disappears from the internet, everything lives there forever, and nothing is a secret, it can be found by cyber criminals.
  • Take screenshots of ‘bad’ messages, especially on platforms where they ‘disappear’, as proof of cyberbullying or other inappropriate or strange behaviour and comments.
  • Don’t share anything, even with friends, if you don’t want other people to see it. Even friends may share your images and comments.
  • Don’t let anyone, even friends, take your devices and use them without permission, or out of your sight.

Cybersecurity and keeping our kids safe is a moving train, even the experts are consistently developing technologies and strategies to stay ahead of the criminals and keep everyone safe.

Stay up to date and get involved with Safer Internet Day in your local area or community.

Check out ESET for more do’s and don’ts, and our Safer Kids Online platform also offers advice, and resources for everyone.