Safer Internet Day: UK Unites to Create a Culture of Tech Literacy

On Safer Internet Day 2017, techUK CEO highlights the importance of a culture of tech literacy to encourage children to grow up to be knowledgeable, practical, and empowered digital citizens.

Today’s Safer Internet Day 2017 highlights the challenges and opportunities for young people online, by calling attention to how industry, government and the public can help provide the critical thinking, knowledge, resilience, and support children need to be safe online.

I know first-hand with my own children how much the internet is interwoven into the lives of children, young people and adults. From helping with homework to video calling to gaming, the online world can enable learning, creativity and communication.

Many parents believe that technology use has a positive impact on their children’s future, career, and life skills.[i] Positively, last year’s A-Level and GCSE results showed an increase in students taking computing, with the number of students studying computing GCSEs increasing by 76 per cent. The accessibility and use of technology by children has also increased - over half of 3-4 year olds use a tablet, and since 2015 there have been increases in the numbers of 5-15s who say that a tablet or a mobile phone is the device they use most often to go online.[ii] However, when speaking with parents and teachers, the explosion of new products and services can sometimes feel overwhelming and bring new challenges for keeping our children safe.

The good news is that there are many resources available for young people, parents, carers, teachers, social workers, law enforcement, companies, and policymakers to help children be safer and enable the online world to be a positive environment for children and young people.

In tackling illegal content, which is often international in its activity, UK industry is leading the way in working in partnership with specialist organisations such as the WePROTECT Global Alliance and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). A charity and self-regulatory body funded by industry, the IWF has globally rolled out a tool to speed up the identification and removal of child sexual abuse content on industry platforms and services worldwide, and prevent people from sharing or uploading these images.

There are many technical solutions available to help parents manage and keep their children safer online, such as free parental controls (both software and devices), and family-friendly network level filtering can be enabled to protect children from inappropriate content. Some online services have also created specialised products for children and young people, such as Google's Safe Search function which can help block inappropriate or explicit images from search engine results, and YouTube Kids which provides a restricted version of YouTube with no public comments, easy flagging and optional search.

However, it’s critical that education and outreach continues to be essential parts of our work in keeping our children safe online. In the UK, we have world-leading cross-sector initiatives where the technology industry actively works with a range of NGOs and organisations, such as Vodafone’s Digital Parenting Magazine, and primary school online safety workshops run by BT and UNICEF UK ‘The Right Click’, and Google and Parent Zone’s ‘Internet Legends’ which are aimed at enhancing the confidence and resilience of parents and children in dealing with age inappropriate material. Equally, organisations such as the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) and Internet Matters provide information for parents, teachers, and tech companies to help make informed choices when tackling e-safety.

The UK has developed one of the best partnership models in the world working with Government, industry and civil society. However, there will always be new challenges to keeping our children safer online. In fostering a positive environment for children and young people, we can help to build a culture of tech literacy and encourage children to grow up to be knowledgeable, practical, and empowered digital citizens.

[i] FOSI, Parents, Privacy and Technology Use 

[ii] Ofcom, Children and Parents: Media use and attitudes report 2016 

More information is available on techUK's Child Online Safety work.

Safer Internet Day 2017 takes place on Tuesday 7th February with the theme 'Be the change: Unite for a better internet'.

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