Will Gardner OBE, a Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, reflects on the huge success of Safer Internet Day 2020.
Tuesday saw the celebration of Safer Internet Day across the world in over 170 countries. As organisers of the day here in the UK it was absolutely incredible to see the range and variety of activities that took place right across the country.
The theme for this year’s Safer Internet Day in the UK was ‘free to be: exploring identity online’. The campaign saw so many come together to help inspire a national conversation about using technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively. Over 1,700 organisations across the UK delivered activities for the day, including schools, police forces, government, companies, football clubs, charities and others, there is still chance to register for those who got involved on the day. Safer Internet Day was profiled on national TV and radio, from the BBC and ITV to the Independent and Metro. Coverage included young people across the country being interviewed about their experiences and hopes for the future of the internet.
Throughout the day it was inspiring to see the impact of Safer Internet Day on social media. On Twitter the #SaferInternetDay hashtag trended at number one in the UK throughout the day, accompanied by the hashtag emoji. The #freetobe campaign also trended on the day with young people across the country sharing their offline templates decorated with the things they wish everyone was free to be online.
We’ve also seen millions engage with the day online in fun and creative ways from a unique emoji on Twitter, a filter and quiz on Snapchat, and a #freetobe TikTok challenge. We saw schools, organisations, football clubs and wider expressed what they wanted from a better internet, including what they can do to help create an internet where they are #freetobe themselves.
In the weeks leading up and on the day itself, our educational resources have been downloaded thousands of times and used in schools across the country as well as the Safer Internet Day Films being viewed and our quiz being played. These resources all explored how young people manage their online identity, and how the internet shapes how they think of themselves and others. We used these resources to help young people to look at whether the internet allows them to experiment and express themselves, or if they feel limited in who they can be online. All of the free resources are still available to download on our website.
Young people leading the campaign
To us at the UK Safer Internet Centre, it’s clear that young people’s experiences have to be at the forefront of how we work together to achieve a better and safer internet for all young people.
This Safer Internet Day we conducted brand new research looking at young people’s experiences of identity online and whether they feel free to be themselves online. From surveying over 2000 children, the report reveals the way young people are managing and curating their identity online.
The research found that young people’s online experiences are an essential part of who they are offline, with 38% saying it’s easier to be themselves online than offline. However the research also found that some young people feel pressure to shape their online identity for others – 62% are careful about what they share because they’ve seen people be mean. Whether it is the 'pressure to be perfect online' or being targeted based on identity - young people are needing support and are calling for a more inclusive and equal internet.
This voice of young people was championed in youth events across the UK, placing them at the centre of what needs to be done. At these events young people met Government ministers, policy makers, industry representatives and more, with opportunities to share their experiences of being online and their recommendations for how this space can be improved for young people.
In London over 50 young people from both primary and secondary schools ran activities and took part in for panel discussions around the theme of online consent. The event was attended by Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and over 100 policymakers and guests.
At Westminster, Digital Champions from the Childnet Digital Leaders met with over 25 MPs to unveil the Young People’s Charter. The charter states four key demands from young people to government on how to create a safer and more inclusive internet.
At Anfield, home to Liverpool Football Club more than 450 young people from schools across the city took part in an event including an assembly, workshops focusing on online identity, stadium tours and meeting Mighty Red the LFC mascot, club legend Ian Rush and first team player Dejan Lovren.
At Goodison Park, home to Everton Football Club 120 young people from schools in the city came together to take part in Safer Internet Day activities.
In Wales young people attended a Film Competition run by Welsh Government, with the winning films being announced by the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams at an event in Cardiff.
The Impact of Safer Internet Day
We know that Safer Internet Day can have a hugely positive impact. As a result of the collective action last year we reached 46% of UK children and 26% of UK parents, with the majority going on to speak with their families about staying safe online and feeling more confident about what to do about any worries online.
As we compile the numbers, it’s too early to say how many we have reached this year, but we do know that together we will have achieved a real difference to the digital lives of children right across the UK.
From the many conversations, activities and events that have been taking place, it’s clear that the day was such a success because of the collaborative efforts of everyone who came together to help create a better internet.
Creating a respectful and positive internet for children and young people is essential and we hope that the momentum of Safer Internet Day will help us in our collaboration to make this happen. Thank you to everyone for taking part and helping to make a better internet.