"YPRT - Youth Protection Roundtable" was a project of the Digital Opportunities Foundation in 2006 - 2009.
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Children and Social Media - opportunities and risks, rules and responsibilities

On April 29th and 30th, 2010 about 300 stakeholders from all over Europe convened in Madrid for the 3 European Dialogue on Internet Governance - EuroDIG. Besides various plenary discussions one of the seven workshops was dedicated to children on the Internet and the responsibilities for keeping them save. The Workshop assembled a lot of stakeholders with different backgrounds. Two young representatives from the Finnish Children’s Parliament opened up the discussion with a statement about the role Internet plays in their family communication. They stated: "My mom does know what I am doing on the Internet and on Facebook. We are talking quite a lot about the Internet at home."

Anders Johanson, from the Swedish Regulator PTS took up that point encouraging parents to ask their children not only "how was in school today" but also "How is it on the net today?". He explained that in his family it is usual since long to ask the children at dinner table about their online habits.

Jutta Croll, Digital Opportunities Foundation, followed the same path further with her statement: "Safeguarding children on adventurous digital playgrounds: Parenthood and responsibility for children in the information age means first and foremost understanding children's online behaviour. It means also digital literacy for adults in charge of minors and knowledge about supporting tools and educational measures." She stressed that nowadays children do not differentiate between real life and their life on the Internet. As long as adults do not understand completely what that means they will not be able to fulfil their task of educating properly. In addition not all families have the opportunity to meet up for dinner, and many parents are even not interested in the Internet so far.

Ana Luiza Rotta, eNACSO - European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online, Copenhagen added that not all parents are good parents and we shall take care not to loose children from those families where parents are to busy to take care for their children's Internet safety. She focussed also on the need to make parents aware and digital literate.

María José Cantarino, Telefonica, Teachtoday.eu explained what industry can do. To her opinion not only NGOs or teachers or governments have to play a role and a lot of joint work to do. Industry has to do a lot and can provide support. Industry has done a lot and has developed certain initiatives like Protegeles. But the situation is changing, Telefonica has set up an important alliance and they work together with competitors and with social networks. They are convinced that the digital gap between adults and minors has a deep impact on teachers because teachers are supposed to teach their students but they need support to fulfil that task and that is what Teachtoday provides.

Nadine Karbach, European Youth Forum stated the need to empower children and to enable them to cope with the challenges and risks the Internet poses on them.

Graham Ritchie, CEOP - Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, London put the focus on social networks, that recently are of increasing popularity and esp. used by younger children. CEOP deals with what happens when the Internet goes wrong with children, they follow a child centred partnership approach. Graham stated: 'Industry and law enforcement must recognise their collective responsibility to uphold the right of children to a safe online experience”.

From the remote participation hub in Moldova the following question came in: "In Moldova many parents have to work abroad and therefore can't take care for their children's online protection - what should they do?

Janice Richardson, INSAFE and European Schoolnet reported about the same problem in boarding schools that cannot provide that one-to-one-relationship to their students that parents could do ideally.

Yolanda Rueda, Fundación Cibervoluntarios reported about an safety internet program carried out for more than 2 years in different schools in Spain. This is a multistakeholder work between local public administrations, industry (Telefonica) and social entities (Fundación Cibervoluntarios). The program is named www.internetenfamilia.org and consists in offline workshops to talk to the children - but also to their families and their schools - about how can social media and internet help them, how can they use it in safe way.

Roberto Aparici, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), Spain turned the view to the role of media in general and the role of teachers as educommunicators. An educommunicator is not a professional who only knows the instruments of information and communication; his objective is to form neither technologists nor computer scientists. This practice is closer to training than to an act of interaction in communication learning. An educommunicator is a mediator in the interaction processes of communication. According to Aparici there is no difference between dealing with other media like TV or radio and the Internet, although he acknowledged that today the majority of young people are prosumers, they are producing and consuming content on the Internet.

A question came from the audience about the effectiveness of filter technology as a tool for taking responsibility and if there is any information about that available so far. It can be answered referring to the SIP Benchmark, a benchmark of parental control tools carried out in 5 testing cycles over the next 3 years for which the European Commission appointed a consortium built of INNOVA Europe, Stiftung Digitale Chancen, Germany and Cybion, Italy., for more information refer to www.digitale-chancen.de.

Yuliya Morenets, TaC - Together against Cybercrime led the discussion back to young people themselves and stressed the question how to promote the cybersecurity culture among young people and children with migrant background using the Internet?

The representative form the Finnish Children's Parliament said that children should be encouraged to use the Internet because it enables them to participate.

This was replied by Javier Garcia, Madrid Office of the Ombudsman for Children who asked the question: "How can children participate in decision-making processes on certain aspects of the Internet that directly affect them, such as social networking, privacy, security and the risks linked to the use of new technologies?".

Georgios Kipouros from the European Youth Forum cut into the discussion and strongly recommended that it is time to act and not to talk. To his opinion politicians have waited for more then ten years and did not take any action. Not acting yet means to him "loosing another generation".

Finally Narine Khachatryan, Media Education Center, Armenia focussed again on the benefits of the Internet in her statement: "When it comes to youth and technology, issues of opportunities rather than of risks dominate the minds of people in our country. Breaking through the ideological curtain in late 80-ies, the country found itself in a geographical isolation and developed a competitive ICT industry. Throwing off the shackles of totalitarian and censored media only 2 decades ago, the nation has not yet lost its ability to read between the lines and separate the ideology from the facts. The country, where the number of broadband Internet users is growing rapidly with an ever-greater demand for high quality communication, the purely protective measures will not gain much support of the public: fears of dangers yield to tremendous opportunities for free communication, learning, creative expression and civic participation."

Conclusion of the workshop shall be done referring to its title as it was the purpose to discuss about opportunities and risks, rules and responsibilities.

This shall be done by a quote from María José Cantarino, Telefonica: "The increasing convergence of services and platforms is raising a series of challenges related to security, privacy and content which are new for consumers and service providers alike. The big challenge is to find the stable balance between the benefits that ICT brings to our lives and the fears of the risks associates to their misuses.

Children need to be empowered to be able to face problems in the digital world as much as in the real world and it is also necessary to empower parents and educators. To help them to achieve this objective it involves the efforts of all the stakeholders: governments, institutions, industry, NGOs, parents, educators and of course, children."

For the next IGF the message from this workshop is that all stakeholders should be involved in the development of a balanced approach focussed on the benefits of Internet usage but aware of the risks and threats. There must also be a balance between Children's rights on privacy and parents obligation to supervise their children's behaviour, a question that is not yet answered satisfyingly. Eventually the next IGF will provide for an outstanding platform to bring together the relevant stakeholders. But maybe discussions and workshops in Vilnius should not so much focus on what has been done in the past but on what should be done in the future, so - to speak with one of the workshop participants "not to loose another generation".

The German version of the text is available on the Website www.digitale-chancen.de

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Available on the website since May 04, 2010