Safer Internet Day is an EU initiative to promote and encourage a safer internet for all users with particular focus on children and young people. The theme for Safer Internet Day for 2021, celebrated on February 9, was “Together for a Better Internet”.

Over the years Safer Internet Day has become an important event in the online safety calendar. It started as an initiative of the EU safe borders project way back in 2004. In 2005 the Insafe network took up this initiative. Since then it has grown beyond the European zone and is now celebrated in around 170 countries around the world.

In Malta Safer Internet Day is also celebrated and organised by the Besmartonline Project. This is an EU co-funded project.

Malta has set up a powerful consortium led by Tech.mt which consists of: Aġenzija Appoġġ; The Office of the Commissioner for Children; The Directorate for Learning and Assessment Programmes (Ministry of Education); and the Cyber Crime Unit within the Malta Police Force.

Other strategic partners support the consortium who share their expertise and experience and form part of the Advisory Board of this project. The project has established and promotes Childwebalert which is an online reporting facility for illegal online content, particularly child sexual abuse material. Childwebalert falls under the remit of Aġenzija Appoġġ and besides reporting illegal content to the cyber-crime unit, it also offers support services to the victims.

This year’s Safer Internet Day was celebrated with a difference. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions and to adhere to the guidelines of the Health Department, this year the information day that used to form part of the SID celebrations was replaced by a toolkit that was created by the partners and was disseminated amongst educators for children in Middle and Secondary Schools. The themes for this year`s SID focused on Digital Footprint and Body Image.

Two supporting videos have been produced about these topics, which was used as a discussion starter by the PSCD teachers and lesson plans prepared by the consortium partners were uploaded online which were followed by educators and students.

Students discussed and reflected on what is a negative and what is a positive digital footprint. This will help them when they create or share content over the internet and the effects it can leave on their lives.

Students were also presented with questions such as: If you googled your name or username, what do you think you would find? Would you be proud to have your teachers/parents/friends look at everything in your digital footprint? Why? Why not?

Body image is an essential part of young people’s development. Moreover, teen body image is closely linked to self-esteem mainly because society and the media, including social media place emphasis on the way we look. Experience shows that young people feel pressured by their peers to look “perfect” both offline and also online. Young people are affected by the amount of likes/followers they have on their social media status. The consortium partners felt the need to bring up this topic when discussing the effect of the media on young people. This year during SID, students were encouraged to come up with taglines and/or hashtags regarding body image that may be used to create awareness amongst their peers.  A digital poster can be created with these taglines/hashtags and passed on to the BeSmartOnline! to be used on social media.

Safer Internet Day encourages everyone to come together and play their part to create both a safer and a better internet. Everyone should be empowered to use technology responsibly, respectfully and creatively. Children and young people can help create a better internet by being responsible and respectful towards others and also by protecting their online image and that of others. It is essential that children and young people are given the message that internet offers positive opportunities yet they also need to understand the negative aspects that the internet can bring.

The Besmartonline Projects seeks to empower parents and carers to support children and young people and ensure that they establish an open dialogue with them. Their role is crucial in order to educate children and young people to use technology safely and positively.

Society at large should aim to contribute in creating a better internet particularly to children and young people. It is everyone’s responsibility and we should all strive to protect our young generation.

Graziella Castillo is director at Aġenzija Appoġġ.

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