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by Larry Magid
This column first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News
For the past 11 years, the European Commission and InSafe, a Brussels-based nonprofit, have been coordinating Safer Internet Day celebrations across Europe and other parts of the world. It will be celebrated this year on Tuesday.
There have been sporadic Safer Internet events in the United States but, until now, it hasn’t been coordinated or official. But in late 2012, then Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and European Vice President Neelie Kroes signed a joint declaration to bring Safer Internet Day to the United States.
ConnectSafely.org, the nonprofit Internet safety organization where I serve as co-director, was asked to host and coordinate U.S. events. We’re planning an event in Washington, D.C., featuring a talk by Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, a panel of high-school leaders from the across the country and a panel of executives from Facebook, Google, Twitter and Yahoo. Kroes will address the gathering by video.
The event will be webcast live starting at 6 a.m. Pacific time at ConnectSafely.org/sidvideo. It will also be carried on Facebook Live and archived for later viewing.
The international theme of this year’s celebration is “Let’s create a better Internet together.” Rather than just focusing on all the negative things that can happen online, we’re focused on what’s good about how people, including kids and teens, are using connected technology and what we can all do to make things better.
In the United States, we’ve launched a “One Good Thing” campaign where people have contributed videos and short blog posts about things they done or witnessed that improve the Internet or use the Internet and mobile technology to make the world a better place. You can view those entries at SaferInternetDay.us/blog.
One Good Things
Some of those “good things” come from teens, including Esmi and Jessie, who said they post anonymous compliments to teens who have gotten hateful messages on Ask.fm. Maddie and Monica talked about how they donated blood and used Instagram to encourages others to do likewise. Grant talked about posting to the compliments page on his high school’s website to “send out daily complements to brighten everyone’s day.” Emily talked about how her cousin had a friend who passed away but took solace in all the support he received from friends.
None of these examples are earth shattering, but that’s the point. They are little things that people of all ages do on a regular basis to make life better for other people.
We started this campaign because we’re tired of all the negativity. Sure, there are bad things that happen online and it’s important to deal with cyberbullying, trolling, hate speech, unwanted sexual solicitations, sexting, unwanted porn and the risk to one’s security and privacy. It’s also important to remind both kids and adults that what they say online can stick around forever and come back to haunt them. That’s all part of Safer Internet Day, but it’s also a time to celebrate the positive and remind adults, including the Washington policy makers who will be at our event, that — like most adults — most kids are thoughtful in the way they use technology and try to respect themselves and others.
Yes, there are kids who bully online. But most kids don’t engage in that type of hurtful behavior and, when it does happen, it has a lot more to do with the relationships they have than the technology itself.
And, as Edward Snowden keeps reminding us, there are also reasons to worry about what our and other governments — as well as private companies — may be doing with all of the information that’s now available about us, thanks to our use of the Internet and mobile technology.
Change for the better
As I look back on my three decades as an active user of online services and the Internet, what I mostly recall are the ways they have changed our lives for the better. I was reminded of that last week as Facebook celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Even though Facebook has brought about some privacy issues we didn’t have before a billion people were posting personal information online, it has also contributed toward social movements all around the world and enabled individuals to stay in touch with families, rekindle old friendships and even make a few new ones.
The same is true for Twitter, Google Plus, Linked-In, Tumblr and just about every other forum where people are able to engage others online. For every post from a troll and bully, there are countless posts from people who want to enhance the lives of their online friends and use online tools to improve the world.
So, as we recognize Safer Internet Day, it’s also a time to recognize the fact that we are building a better Internet. It’s far from perfect, but it’s changing our lives and the lives of people all over the globe, mostly for the better.