Today is Safer Internet Day, a time when communities, schools, organizations, and families come together to learn and share best practices for keeping children safe online. While in-person events are cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ConnectSafely—a nonprofit dedicated to educating and empowering families on internet safety—produced a video series in honor of the day and an asynchronous program consisting of home activities and lesson plans for schools. The video series includes interviews with technology, media, and education experts as they speak about a range of issues, from managing screen time to the spread of misinformation to online toxicity. ConnectSafely, the host of Safer Internet Day, also continued with the tradition of exploring a theme for this year's Safer Internet Day, and designated it, 'Internet Starts with I & ends with T.'
In a Q&A with NCTA, ConnectSafely CEO Larry Magid talked about the meaning behind this year’s theme, the most common online risky behaviors among kids and families, and how businesses, communities, and parents can help mitigate these risks by teaching kids to be smart, savvy, and media literate citizens online. Magid has seen many changes across the internet and media landscape since the 1990s when he began his work in internet safety. During the '90s, Magid wrote two of the first online safety guides, Child Safety on the Information Highway and Teen Safety on the Information Highway, for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. He currently authors several parent and educator guides for ConnectSafely.
See highlights from NCTA's interview with Magid below:
Tell us more about ConnectSafely and its mission around internet safety.
We offer resources, parent guides, and deep dives into Instagram, cyberbullying, hate speech, fake news, and many other topics. We also do podcasts and we air a twice weekly radio program called the ConnectSafely Report. In our work, we partner with organizations that work directly with families and schools, and we provide resources for educators. And of course, we run Safer Internet Day annually. Traditionally, on Safer Internet Day, we typically host in-person events for kids in their school communities for a one-day deep dive education event around internet safety, and then host a family event in the evening. These events take place in cities across the country. But this year due to the pandemic, and because many kids, parents, and educators are experiencing Zoom fatigue, ConnectSafely [changed its plans this year] and created a video series that honors Safer Internet Day.
Can you elaborate on this year's theme for Safer Internet Day?
It's really to emphasize that everybody—no matter who they are, be they a parent, teenager, a corporation, a government entity, or a nonprofit—has a role to play. 'I' can do this. 'I' can share responsibly. 'I' can treat others kindly. 'I' can take care of myself. These are messages around what 'I' can do to protect myself and to protect others. Internet ends with 'T' reminds us that we are all in this together. There are things we can do in terms of establishing corporate or government policies to try to make the internet a better place in every way you can imagine. The Capitol riots that happened on January 6 were organized online. We have to take some sort of collective responsibility for that, because all politics aside, the fact remains that it was organized online. We need to think about what were the conditions in place that led to that happening.
Why is it important to have a day dedicated to Safer Internet Day?
I think it's always a good idea to dedicate a day to focus on and spotlight an important issue. There is a day for everything, and a time for companies, governments, families, educators, children, and everyone to think about a certain issue they can carry with them for the rest of the year. It's not so much about the actual day, but about the opportunity to emphasize the issue. Maybe we'll get a shout out on the Google home page, or we might get a TV segment about the topic!
Which internet safety concerns have amplified for families during the pandemic?
Based on anecdotal data, as more people spend more time online during the pandemic, cyberbullying and harassment are probably going up. Parents are being less vigilant in terms of screen time. But we do urge parents to be more open to screen time than they might have been prior to the pandemic, because screen time is the primary way we work, play, learn, and communicate during the pandemic. However, Zoom fatigue is a real thing. Families are struggling with that. Then there are privacy issues that come up with Zoom meetings. There might be things going on in the background that are exposing private family situations, like kids and parents yelling at one another.
The spread of misinformation though is very serious. Some people are using the internet to advocate false and unsafe practices in regards to COVID-19, and there [were and] are people spreading misinformation about the 2020 election. We have to figure out a way to immunize ourselves from fake news, and how to make people take 'media literacy shots,' so to speak.
How can parents be a positive influence for their children when it comes to technology and internet use?
There is no one size fits all. Some parents might need to use extreme measures because their children are big risk takers. Others don't bother using any kinds of filters for their kids because they don't need to, or they have other mechanisms. But parents need to be aware that there are tools and apps out there that can help. Many times they are offered through their ISPs. Parents should make decisions based on whether they are appropriate for their family, and then they need to employ these tools thoughtfully. They should have a conversation with their kids about this and enforce rules at home.
Kids are always watching their parents. And kids model after their parents. So, for example, if a parent is always taking work calls at dinner, then the child will think it's ok for him or her to talk on the phone during dinner too. Kids are picking up on that behavior.
We urge parents to go with their soul, their gut, their value system—and to use our resources to learn how to apply those values.
For information on the resources and tools that cable ISPs offer families on internet safety, go to https://www.famfriendly.com/.