Today, 7 February, marks Safer Internet Day. Organised by Insafe and held in February each year, Safer Internet Day is an annual international event to promote safer and more responsible use of online technology and mobile phones especially amongst children and young people across the world. Insafe is a European network of awareness centres promoting safe, responsible use of the internet and mobile devices to young people. It aims to empower citizens to use the internet as well as other online technologies positively, safely and effectively. Since 2004 Safer Internet Day has spread to 74 countries worldwide with thousands of people involved in events.
The theme for Safer Internet Day 2012 is ‘Connecting generations and educating each other’ as conveyed by this year’s slogan: Discover the digital world together … safely! The theme and slogan recognise that one of the most important things that families can do to understand the online environment is talk to each other about how they interact online. It is an idea each of us needs to take forward into this increasingly interconnected world.
In Australia this event is supported by the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Cybersmart program. The ACMA Cybersmart program provides engaging, informative and fun resources to facilitate discussion across the generations about the online world. Cybersmart has a number of key messages for schools, libraries and families on today’s Safer Internet Day. These are: talk about online safety with all members of your family and especially your school community; protect your privacy; check your privacy settings and update your software; and, to educate yourself about the online world, check out the Cybersmart resources.
Talking about online safety is a vital role that parents and grandparents need to perform to keep young ones safe when they are online. Kids and teens have never known a world without the internet, while parents and grandparents are often struggling to keep pace with ever-changing technologies. To bridge this digital cultural divide and gain a better understanding of what the youngsters in their care are doing online parents and grandparents need to raise important questions such as: what are the sites that you use the most? Do you use social networking sites? Do you use the privacy settings, and how? Are you friends online with people that you do not know in the real world? And, finally, what would you do if one of your online friends wanted to meet you in person?
Another important aspect of participating in the online environment is to ensure that privacy settings are correct. The ‘Easy Guide to Socialising Online’ was recently launched by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, and provides information to help parents, children and educators combat cyberbullying and inappropriate content online. The guide provides cybersafety information including privacy settings for 26 social networking sites, search engines and online games, including Facebook, Twitter, Google and World of Warcraft. Setting correct privacy settings is one of the easiest and most effective ways of keeping yourself and your children safe online. The guide also gives step-by-step instructions on how to report cyberbullying, abuse and inappropriate content on these sites. It provides clear information for parents, educators and young people on how to adjust safety and privacy settings on websites as well as provides tips on how to stay safe when using any social media site.
The guide is part of the government’s $125 million cybersafety plan and has been developed following advice from the government’s youth advisory group on cybersafety and in close collaboration with the consultative working group. I am pleased to report that the guide received around 21,000 page views within the first week of operation.
For Safer Internet Day, the ACMA’s Cybersmart program is offering schools across Australia the opportunity to participate in two nationwide activities, Cybersmart Hero and Cybersmart Networking. In keeping with the Safer Internet Day theme ‘Connecting generations and educating each other’ schools are encouraged to invite parents and grandparents to participate in the activity together with students.
Cybersmart Hero is an online activity that teaches children about cyberbullying in a protected environment. Students work online and in real time liaising with community professionals to respond to a cyberbullying issue. The aim of the program is to educate and empower students to make informed decisions in real life situations. In the activity students play the role of a bystander who becomes aware of a cyberbullying problem at school. Students ultimately become concerned about the welfare of a fellow student who is the subject of some targeted bullying through electronic media such as texts, emails, chat rooms and social networking. As the scenario unfolds the students are required to discuss the issues and make decisions about the responsible course of action. By the end of the activity students will be familiar with the issues around cyberbullying and how to respond to those issues if they are ever faced with similar situations.
Cybersmart Networking is an innovative online activity that teaches children about social networking, once again, in a protected environment. I was pleased, last year, to launch Cybersmart Networking at St Aloysius Catholic College in Kingston, Tasmania. The activity has been tailored to provide new social networking users and those who will shortly be venturing onto this space with real experience of what can go wrong and how they can prevent it. Students work online in real time with community professionals and are taken though a series of issues they may experience when connecting through social networking programs. In the activity a tight-knit group of friends set up a secret social networking group sharing comments about others, personal information and photos with anonymity. Things get out of hand when others get access to the group and the original members are faced with the consequences. As the scenario unfolds the students are required to discuss the issues and make decisions about the responsible course of action. By the end of the activity students are familiar with the issues they may face in the online social networking environment and ways in which to avoid them. Students that I spoke to about the activity were impressed with the way the program made them really think about what they put online and about how they interact with others in the online environment.
The ACMA has also released a number of other resources for children of different ages. A guide to online safety has been released which contains age appropriate strategies to help keep young children, tweens and teens safe online. For children between the ages of five and eight, the Hector’s World website can show children how to use their computer, the internet and the telephone safely. For children between the ages of seven and 13 the CyberQuoll website shows the pitfalls and triumphs of being cybersmart on the internet. In six fun cartoon adventures CyberQuoll gives helpful hints and tips for staying safe. For teenagers aged 14-plus the DVD Tagged shows the consequences when a group of high school friends post a rumour about a rival which sparks a chain reaction that leaves no-one untouched. The DVD touches on issues of cyberbullying, sexting, filmed fights and the ensuing police action in a way that the target audience can really relate to.
To provide further help to families to stay safe online ACMA also operates a hotline which investigates reports by Australian residents about illegal and offensive online content. To help everyone take part in Safer Internet Day 2012 the ACMA has developed other interactive activities and resources. People can look at them at http://www.cybersmart.gov.au. These include lesson plans, a poster, videos and positive actions that families can take to stay safe online. All Cybersmart resources are available free of charge and can be downloaded, viewed online, or ordered via the Cybersmart order form or over the phone.
More information about Safer Internet Day, including promotional materials and resources, can be obtained from the Safer Internet Day website or from the Cybersmart website. Safer Internet Day provides us all with an opportunity to look at the way we are participating in the ever-changing online world. It reminds us to check our privacy settings and adjust them to take into account changes in social media sites. Finally, it encourages us to talk with those around us, in particular the young, so that we can learn about the risks associated with being online and also learn from each other.