BIK+, short for Better Internet for Kids, comes ten years after the initial BIK was adopted. With children’s internet habits and accessibility changing exponentially over that time frame, the commission has had to reevaluate its plan.
BIK+ promises safe digital experiences--through age-appropriate designs and online age verification by 2024-- digital empowerment for children to acquire skills and competences to navigate the internet, and active participation. For this third pillar, more experienced children will teach other children more about online opportunities and risks.
A gradual change over ten years
But will the new strategy be a challenge to adopt for Luxembourg? According to Debora Plein, coordinator for online safety structure Bee Secure, it shouldn’t be.
“As a Safer Internet Centre in a European network, we (Bee Secure, editor’s note) are connected with our colleagues from other European countries, and we have submitted input for the evolution of the BIK+ strategy because we were and remain embedded in the previous strategy and the new one,” Plein explains. The transition from the 2012 plan to the 2022 one isn’t abrupt.
Bee Secure is a governmental initiative managed by SNJ and KJT (the children and youth helpline), which has existed under this name for 12 years. With years of experience under its belt, the structure has figured out its approach to the subject, by offering a helpline for anyone of any age needing information, a stop line to flag violent content of any type (racist, paedopornographic, terrorist,…) and information sessions.
Learning from children
In the grand duchy, 100% of children have access to the internet, according to a survey by Bee Secure. They provide a wealth of information for experts on internet safety.
Bee Secure gets this information by being in contact with them. The structure teaches preteens in 7th grade to think critically about content they come across on the internet, and about what to do when they encounter dangerous situations online. “We organise over 1,300 training sessions a year,” Plein says, half of which are directed to high schools, and the other half with primary school children.
This is how Bee Secure finds the material to remain up-to-date with the internet. “Through the sessions and direct contact with these children and youths, but also through focus groups that we organise regularly, we have conversations with them, who, as experts, can show us the current trends and behaviours on the internet.” In 2021, 115 children and 45 teens took part in these panels.
Coaches who hold workshops in schools also bring up trends that develop not just in Luxembourg but all over the world.
All this is filtered through an expert group and flows back into training opportunities for younger people and parents.
Towards safe exploration
To which extent children can experience the internet without being restricted in their usage, is “the age-old question of education,” so Plein. “Reaching adulthood happens when one is exposed to certain dangerous or risky situations, learns to recognise and manage them. Internet isn’t different in that aspect, but we have certain recommendations we give to parents.”
Children often come across content that isn’t age-appropriate, and there, parents have to learn how to explain and handle their child’s experience. On top of its workshops, Bee Secure also puts out a guidebook for parents. There they can learn about filters and respectful monitoring.
Plein adds that last year, Bee Secure did a survey among younger internet users and their parents to identify the dangers they have or might come across. Content, adult contact, peer conduct and exploitation that are harmful, such as gory videos, sexual harassment, identity theft and blackmail were among the problematics identified.
The workshops and helplines aim to give children, parents and carers the necessary tools to recognise these contents as harmful and how to deal with them.
A vast collaborative task
The task of keeping children safe on the internet is as vast as the digital sphere itself. For this reason, Bee Secure works alongside other national actors on tackling it. “It’s a joint effort of many actors and participants because internet security and safety are a complex issue where many screws are turned.”
Ultimately though, providers--like social media platforms Instagram or TikTok--should also be held responsible for keeping the web surfing experience secure. An endeavour that BIK+ will push further.