As Safer Internet Day 2014 kicks off, we speak to one of the pioneers of online safety to find out how we can all act to keep kids away from danger.
Today is Safer Internet Day, an international initiative that tries to raise awareness about the need to help keep children safe online. Now in its 10th year, the day is recognised across the globe, and we’ve been chatting to a man who was there at the start to find out why it’s so important.
Vodafone Digital Parenting guide
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John Carr is secretary of the UK Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety, he’s adviser to the British Government on the same issues and he’s just put the finishing touches to an article for the 2014 Vodafone Digital Parenting Guide, so who better to speak to about staying safe on the mobile web?
Bigger, stronger, safer
“I was there on the first ever Safer Internet Day,” John says, “which was held in the British Library in 2004. It was a very small event – nothing like what we see today. It’s gotten much, much bigger within Britain; the number of schools and organisations supporting the event has grown enormously. But the really striking thing is the way that it’s become an international event. Over 100 countries on five continents are taking part this year.”
So why is it such an important awareness-raising event? Chiefly, because the way we all access the web has changed dramatically over the past ten years. “When internet access was only available through static devices in children’s homes, schools or libraries, the possibility of supervising and supporting their online activities was a real one. But now that the internet is mobile through tablets and smartphones, that just isn’t realistic any more,” John explains.
“There are still too many parents who are not engaging with their kids…”
And those new devices have brought with them a new set of risks: “Bullying is the perennial one that a lot of kids have experienced, but there’s also inappropriate selfies. Inappropriate use of cameras and video are now issues when you’re talking about the mobile space.”
So what’s to be done? John’s seen first hand the difference that just spreading the message can achieve:
“Constantly pumping out the message is the key. I remember ‘clunk, click every trip’ was a hugely successful campaign for raising awareness about the importance of wearing seatbelts in cars. Internet safety is a bit like that. We need to have a constant set of awareness-raising initiatives to keep the issue in parents’ and children’s minds.
“Every year when polling gets done it’s very gratifying to see that there’s a much higher level of awareness of the issues. There are still too many parents who are not engaging with their kids, though. The last Ofcom survey showed the good news is six out of seven parents are doing something to help keep their kids safe when they go online. But one in seven parents did nothing. That’s too big a number to ignore. We’ve still got a lot to do. We’ve got to close that gap and get it nearer to zero.”
Playing our part
Alongside initiatives like Safer Internet Day, John believes that the big tech companies have a big part to play in educating people of the dangers the web can present to kids, and in helping people enjoy the web safely. And we agree.
“Big companies are the suppliers of the technology, so they have a moral responsibility to act, and by and large they do. Certainly Vodafone has always been a leader in this field,” John adds. “Big companies are the ones with the relationships with customers, so they’re in a very powerful position to make sure the right messages are getting through to the right people at the right time.
“Big companies are the suppliers of the technology, so they have a moral responsibility to act.”
“That’s why it’s so great that the mobile phone industry, and Vodafone in particular, has been ready to respond by providing extra tools and support to parents to help them do what they would have done if they were sitting next to their child. It’s very important to find out what tools Vodafone and other companies are supplying for free – things like the Vodafone Guardian app – and use them.”
The thing is, the web can be scary, but the good far outweighs the bad. It’s all a case of getting to a point where awareness is at an all-time high:
“Mobile technology has been a tremendous advantage for kids and young people. Not just in terms of fun and games and staying in touch with friends, but also for helping them with learning. We’re all big fans of technology,” John says in closing, “we’re just looking forward to the day where we don’t have to read any more about the bad side, and only read about the good.”
Need advice? Visit Safer Internet Day’s website for more information. You can view or download the Vodafone Digital Parenting Guide here, and find out more about the Vodafone Guardian app here.