In the Information Society "rich media content is becoming available in new diverse formats and can be delivered independent of location or time personalized to individual citizens' preferences or requirements." (i2010 – A European Information Society for growth and employment, COM(2005) 229 final).
To ensure that all people can benefit from this rich media content it is necessary to keep unwanted and harmful content from the users and to enable users to decide themselves which content they want to access.
Nowadays more and more people are afraid of encountering unwanted and harmful content instead of useful information while being online. This fear prevents people from making use of the Internet's abundant resources. The goal of the i2010 programme – an Inclusive European Information Society promoting growth and jobs in a manner that is consistent with sustainable development and that prioritises better public services and quality of life – can only be achieved when all people are likely to use the Internet as a tool for gathering knowledge and information as well as for entertainment. Therefore users of all age groups should be addressed by any measure to prevent unwanted and harmful content.
Particularly children at home under the responsibility of their parents and in schools or social institutions like youth clubs under the responsibility of teachers and pedagogues should be provided with rich content on the one hand and be prevented from encountering harmful content on the other hand. A climate of confidence is needed to ensure that adults acknowledge the opportunities the digital media offer to themselves as well as to their own children or to those under their responsibility. The promotion of the use of Internet and new online technologies must built on an atmosphere of safety and security otherwise the economic benefits which increased access to these technologies will bring to society will not be exploited to full extent.
Filter technologies seem to be an adequate measure to deal with the problem of unwanted and harmful content and to provide for safety in the use of the Internet. There are filter technologies available that allow the full blocking of any content that might be harmful – especially to children and youth. On the other hand, in some cases the same filter technologies prevent access to wanted and useful content, that is, they overblock in a way that is not intended. Children's welfare specialists therefore claim media literacy as a more adequate measure for youth protection. Parents and other adults responsible for the education and welfare of children walk a tightrope educating on the one hand and protecting on the other. As the effectiveness of new filter technologies largely depends on the appropriate configuration by the individual user – or in case of minors by the responsible educator – there is not a basic conflict but rather a supplementary relationship. To support pedagogues in the process of enabling youth for a safe and secure use of the Internet, it is necessary to build a bridge between the technical possible and the pedagogical wanted.
To rely either on market forces for the development of technical measure or on regulation seems to lead in the wrong direction. A combination of technical tools with increased effectiveness and approved pedagogical measures might be the solution. To develop the ideal product-neutral mix of both there is a need for communication and collaboration between specialists from the technical side and experts from the pedagogical side. Therefore at the Youth Protection Roundtable we will bring together the relevant players in this field.
With the 20 European National Awareness Nodes set up within the Safer Internet Programme the Commission has provided the framework for a targeted awareness campaign all over Europe. The Youth Protection Roundtable will build on the achievements of this initiative.
Technical experts and children's welfare specialists from eleven European countries will broaden their view for upcoming threats and will develop the optimal mix of countermeasures.