The internet is a vital part of children and young people’s lives, and most parents are aware that making sure youngsters are safe online is crucial.
Particularly in recent years, when the lack of social contact has meant they’ve spent a lot more time surfing the net.
Safer Internet Day 2022 comes as a Parent Club survey revealed more than one in 10 children are free to roam the world wide web without any parental controls blocking them from accessing unsuitable online content.
Some 40% of children have engaged in risky behaviours online by the age of 12, Ofcom said in a separate survey, including adding someone to their contacts that they have never met; sending a photo or video of themselves to a stranger; or doing something that they know their parents would not want them to do.
Here is everything you need to know about it.
What is Safer Internet Day?
Each year, Safer Internet Day (SID) aims to raise awareness of emerging online issues and current concerns.
It started as an initiative of the EU SafeBorders project in 2004, but has grown beyond its traditional geographic zone and is now celebrated in approximately 200 countries and territories worldwide.
Safer Internet Day is now run by Insafe, a European network of Safer Internet Centres (SICs) which implement awareness and educational campaigns, run helplines and work closely with youth to help create a better internet.
This year’s theme is once again "Together for a better internet".
For resources and more information on Safer Internet Day 2020, head to saferinternetday.org.
When is it?
In 2022, Safer Internet Day is being celebrated on Tuesday 8 February.
How is it being celebrated?
Safer Internet Day is often used to announce new measures to tackle online safety, whether by Government organisations or social media companies.
To mark Safer Internet Day 2022, digital minister Chris Philp announced websites that publish pornography will be legally required to verify the age of their users under new online safety rules.
Prior to this announcement, only commercial porn sites that allow user-generated content were in the scope of the Government’s draft Online Safety Bill – the update means all commercial porn sites are now within the scope of the proposed new rules.
Sites could use secure age verification technology to confirm a user possesses a credit card and is therefore at least 18, or use a third-party service to confirm someone’s age against government data.
Ministers said that if sites fail to act, Ofcom, as the sector’s regulator, will be able to fine them up to 10% of their annual global turnover or block their site in the UK, while bosses of such sites could be held criminally liable if they fail to cooperate with Ofcom.
Also as part of SID, a group of civil society organisations and privacy campaigners have accused the Government of using “scare tactics” to try to sway public opinion over the use of end-to-end encryption in messaging apps.
In an open letter, the Open Rights Group and more than 40 other campaign groups criticised a recent Home Office advertising campaign which claimed that encryption puts children at risk from predators and can be used to hide online abuse.
Civil society groups said they are concerned the Government is seeking to influence public opinion prior to amending the Online Safety Bill, so that tech firms would be forced to weaken or remove end-to-end encryption from their messaging systems, something the groups argue would in fact put more people at risk.
How to keep children safe online
Here are some measures parents can take to protect children online:
Use parental controls
The majority of internet-connected devices have some form of parental control system but users can also install their own.
Both iOS and Google have features allowing parents to not only filter content but also set time limits on how long children can use certain apps.
For iOS devices, such as an iPhone or iPad, you can make use of the Screen Time feature to block certain apps, content types or functions.
On iOS, this can be done by going to settings and selecting Screen Time.
For Android, you can install the Family Link app from the Google Play Store.
Games consoles also support parental controls that can be set up manually – the UK Safer Internet Centre offers downloadable guides for different consoles on its website.
Content filters capable of blocking particular websites from being accessed on specific devices via a home Wi-Fi network are made available by many internet service providers.
In some cases, this can also be used to set time limits.
Visit your service provider’s website for more details but it should be noted these features will only work while a device is connected to a home broadband network so additional steps will need to be taken to secure devices when being used outside the home.
Some concerns around social media can be better approached if parents know how the various platforms operate.
Net Aware, a website run in partnership between the NSPCC and O2, offers a range of useful information about each social network, including guidance on minimum age requirements and the types of content usually shared on that platform.
Talking to children
Many charities, including the NSPCC, stress that talking to children “openly and regularly” is the best way to keep them safe online.
Its website features a number of tips on how to start a conversation with children about using social media and the wider internet, including having parents visit sites with their children to learn about them together and discussing how to stay safe online and acting responsibly.
Net Aware also offers a free helpline for any further questions or advice, which is on 0808 800 5002.
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