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Smartphones, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and online platforms have reconfigured modern life and reshaped social interactions. Their impact is even greater on younger generations. This session focused on the risks that new technologies and online interaction have on children’s wellbeing.
This issue was approached from three main perspectives. First, children’s digital footprint. A digital footprint is composed of data and metadata that has been uploaded online by the user, plus the information that can be analysed without the user’s knowledge. With the multiplication of the IoT devices and the development of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, children can generate enormous amounts of data which is easy for algorithms to analyse. Ms Evangelia Daskalaki (IT Manager and Safety Consultant, Safer Internet Centre (SIC) Greece) noted that ‘children’s data is collected at home, outside [the] home, and virtually everywhere children access a connection and browse'. She warned against both the short- and long-term consequences of this access, such as the risk of encountering strangers online, online bullying, and identity theft.
The second discussion thread developed around cyber-psychology, i.e., the creation of one’s identity online and one’s online behaviour. Ms Deborah Vassallo (Safer Internet Administrator, SIC Malta) explained that online interaction is characterised by the ‘disinhibition effect’, i.e., the illusion of being safe online, and children’s perception of the virtual world as an extension of a playground. Moreover, children perceive the online space as lacking authority and offering anonymity, which can be dangerous. Looking at the possible risks of the online space in relation to different age groups, Vassallo noted that, while children aged 4 to 12 are tech savvy but not fully aware of the risks of using online platforms, teenagers go through a process of identity construction that continues online. On social media, teenagers constantly reshape their cyber-self with the risk of always feeling ‘online’ and connected since ‘even when we sleep, people are liking us’.
The debate moved towards considering whether children and teenagers online are critical users of the Internet and know how to use it properly. Digital inclusion and digital literacy are becoming key elements of a healthier use of the Internet. Ms Sofia Rasgado (Coordinator, SIC Portugal) pushed for the need to create a more resilient society with digital competencies (from digital citizen identity to privacy management, and from cyber-bullying to digital empathy) as crucial elements for a healthy society and democracy. As an example, she introduced INCoDe 2030 - the integrated public policy initiative launched by the Portuguese government which promotes digital development, digital inclusion, and digital literacy.
By Marco Lotti