Safer Internet Day 2020 Press Release

11 Feb 2020 UK SIC

Are young people free to be themselves online?

Research finds that being online is both liberating and limiting for children

  • New research from the UK Safer Internet Centre reveals 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
  • The internet is creating an informed and inspired generation that is taking action
  • But some feel pressure to shape their online identity for others – 62% are careful about what they share because they’ve seen people be mean
  • Certain groups are being targeted with identity-based hate
  • UKSIC call on people to start conversations with young people about online identity
  • Research released by the UK Safer Internet Centre, official co-ordinators of Safer Internet Day, as part of this year’s campaign with over 1600 organisations coming together to support the day

New research by the UK Safer Internet Centre released today (11th February) reveals the internet is a fundamental part of young people’s identity, helping them find their own voice offline. The research marks Safer Internet Day, which will see millions of young people, schools, and organisations across the UK explore online safety and the theme of ‘free to be me’.

It comes as over 1,600 supporters in the UK, including schools, charities, police services, industry bodies, businesses, Government ministers, Premier League football clubs and celebrities such as Natasha Devon, Georgie Barrat, Jeremy Gilley and James McVey, join young people to ignite conversations and host events that promote the safe, responsible and positive use of technology.

Online experiences essential to young people’s identities

Almost half (49%) of young people aged 8-17 said that what they do and see online contributes to their identity, making up an essential part of who they are offline. 54% admit they would feel lost, confused, or as if they’d lost a part of themselves if their online accounts were taken away. 38% said it was easier to be themselves online than offline, seeing it as a safe space to explore and grow.

Through support and access to information, young people are using the internet to understand their identity. Because of the internet, 51% have felt better emotionally or less alone, 47% have gained confidence to be themselves offline, and 31% have found support they couldn’t find offline. It also plays a crucial role in building acceptance of others’ identities, as 46% say they understand other people’s identities better because of things they’ve seen online.

Having a voice and creating change

Online experiences are informing and inspiring a generation, with 34% of 8-17s saying that, in the last month, the internet has inspired them to take action about a cause. 43% say it makes them feel their voices matter and over half (52%) have sent a supportive message to someone who was being bullied because they are seen as ‘different’.

How free are young people to be themselves online?

Young people are using the internet to explore and creatively shape their identities. 61% say it’s important that platforms let them experiment with identity and 76% believe that, when creating online personas, it’s important that it is fun. When considering what makes up an online identity, 66% say it’s their own thoughts and ideas, showing young people are feeling empowered to shape their own identity.

However, external pressures exist. Nearly half (47%) think it’s important to ‘fit in’ online and 61% think the internet puts pressure on people to come across as perfect.  70% of young people say the internet makes it easy for people to be mean and 62% are careful about what they share because they’ve seen people be mean.

Almost a third of young people have created more than one account on the same platform, with many doing this to curate their identity in positive and creative ways. However, 2 in 5 (40%) are doing so in order to change how they are seen online and 36% because someone had been mean to them.

How free are different communities?

The research draws on the experiences of different groups of young people, including disabled, BAME, or LGBT+ young people, revealing how much experiences can vary. 54% of disabled young people said it was easier to be themselves online than offline, compared with 38% of non-disabled young people; over a half (52%) also said in the last month they have found people like them they couldn’t find offline. Disabled (47%) and BAME young people (43%) are also more likely to be inspired by the internet to take action about a cause in comparison to 34% overall.

Some of these groups of young people are also being targeted disproportionately. A quarter (25%) of 13-17-year olds say they have been targeted with online hate in the last month because of their gender, sexuality, race, religion, disability or gender identity, with 45% of disabled teens and 32% of BAME teens reporting this.

The research also reveals parents and carers are concerned about their children’s online experiences, with 65% of parents worrying that the internet is a place of negativity and 39% thinking the internet has more influence on their child than they do. Yet children are wanting to reach out to their parents, with over half (51%) wanting to talk to them about their online identities.

Will Gardner OBE, Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, says:

“The internet is primarily a place of positivity for young people. Whether being inspired to be the next campaigner, supporter or friend – it’s a place for them to find their voice, explore their identities, and support each other.

“We must help young people on this journey by acknowledging the pressures, challenges and limits the internet also brings. We can do this by listening to them and starting conversations about our online lives. We know talking works; as a result of Safer Internet Day last year, 78% of young people felt more confident about what to do if they were worried about something online.

“It is so important for all of us – adults, businesses, and government – to support young people to harness the internet for good and make it a place where everyone is free to be themselves.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

“Used safely, the internet can play an important role in young people’s development. But social media companies must be held accountable for protecting their users from harms on their platforms, including grooming, hate crime, and terrorist content.

That is exactly why we are working on legislation to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.

We thank the UK Safer Internet Centre for their vital work on this issue and fully support Safer Internet Day.”

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said:

“The internet is an incredible tool; it gives young people a wealth of knowledge and opportunity at their fingertips. But at the same time it adds new pressures on young people in ways we couldn’t have imagined even a few years ago.

It’s important that we provide pupils with the knowledge and information they need to seize those opportunities but also recognise the challenges, which is why the online safety aspect of our new Relationship, Sex and Health Education is key.”

The UK Safer Internet Centre (comprised of Childnet, Internet Watch Foundation and SWGfL) has worked with over 40 of its Digital Leaders to create the Young People’s Charter that it will put to the government, calling on them to:

  • Provide good quality education about the internet
  • Protect equal rights and opportunities online and offline
  • Establish better protection online and industry accountability
  • Give young people the space and power to create change

The Centre has developed educational resources to equip parents, schools and other members of the children’s workforce with tools to support young people this Safer Internet Day, and beyond.


For media information and to arrange interviews, please contact the Safer Internet Day team on:

020 3696 5800

Notes to editors:

About Safer Internet Day

Safer Internet Day is celebrated globally in February each year to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology for children and young people and inspire a national conversation. 

The global theme for Safer Internet Day is “Together for a better internet”, with this year’s UK campaign entitled “Free to be me.”

Coordinated in the UK by the UK Safer Internet Centre, Safer Internet Day is celebrated in over a hundred countries, coordinated by the joint Insafe/INHOPE network, with the support of the European Commission, and national Safer Internet Centres across Europe.

The day offers the opportunity to highlight positive uses of technology and to explore the role we all play in helping to create a better and safer online community.

For more information on Safer Internet Day 2020, please visit:

Tips for children and parents to make the most of their time online are available here.

About the research

The quantitative survey was conducted online by Censuswide in December 2019, with a representative sample of 2,001 young people aged 8-17 years olds in the United Kingdom as well as 2001 parents of those same children.

Censuswide is a full-service research consultancy specialising in consumer and B2B research. This research was conducted on Censuswide’s education network and participants under the age of 16 were contacted via their parents or guardians.

Qualitative research was also conducted with young people by Childnet with 13 children aged 9-14 years in focus groups as well as an online survey with 41 Childnet Digital Leaders aged 8-18. Young people in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were also filmed for the Safer Internet Day films.

The full report can be found at

Safer Internet Day supporters

Safer Internet Day 2020 is being supported by over 1,600 organisations and people. These include: the UK Government, high profile individuals, police services, charities and schools across the UK, who are all coming together to deliver a range of inspiring activities.

About the UK Safer Internet Centre

The UK Safer Internet Centre works to promote the safe and responsible use of technology for children and young people. A partnership of three leading charities, Childnet, Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL), the Safer Internet Centre in the UK was set up in 2011 as one of 31 centres of the InSafe Network and has a shared mission of making the UK the safest place in the world to go online. We offer leading education, training and awareness for children, parents and educators demonstrating how to stay safe online while enjoying all the positive benefits the internet has to offer.

The centre has three key duties:

  • An awareness centre to educate and inform children, young people, educators and parents about online safety. The awareness element is led by our teams at Childnet International and SWGfL, who offer hands-on training sessions across the UK in schools and communities, as well as a wealth of other resources and tools for teachers and parents to use with children and young people.
  • A hotline for the public to anonymously report suspected child sexual abuse imagery or videos they may stumble across online. Operated by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), our team also proactively searches for criminal content online working with a host of international partners to have material removed from the internet no matter where it’s hosted.
  • A helpline provided by our team at South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) offers tools, advice and information to professionals working with children and young people concerning any online safety issues they may face themselves or with the children in their care. We also operate – the national reporting hub for reporting legal but harmful online content.

In 2019:

  • 4,950 young people were involved in the Childnet Digital Leaders peer mentoring programme
  • 130,000+ reports of child sexual abuse imagery were actioned by the IWF
  • 90% of callers to the SWGfL helpline said the advice helped resolve the issue they were calling about

Supportive quotes:

Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

“Used safely, the internet can play an important role in young people’s development.

But social media companies must be held accountable for protecting their users from harms on their platforms, including grooming, hate crime, and terrorist content.

That is exactly why we are working on legislation to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.

We thank the UK Safer Internet Centre for their vital work on this issue and fully support Safer Internet Day.”

Nick Gibb, School Standards Minister:

“The internet is an incredible tool; it gives young people a wealth of knowledge and opportunity at their fingertips. But at the same time it adds new pressures on young people in ways we couldn’t have imagined even a few years ago.

It’s important that we provide pupils with the knowledge and information they need to seize those opportunities but also recognise the challenges, which is why the online safety aspect of our new Relationship, Sex and Health Education is key.”

Kirsty Williams, Welsh Minister for Education:

“I recognise the great importance Safer Internet Day has in inspiring a national conversation about online safety and it brings about the perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the work we’ve been doing in Wales. Steered by the Online Safety Action Plan, which provides a strategic vision for the work the Welsh Government will take forward to enhance online safety provision, policy and practice across Wales.

Our Online Safety Zone on Hwb hosts an extensive range of teaching resources, guidance and advice to learners, parents and carers and schools on online safety issues and links to training and further expert support. The Welsh Government has worked with the UK Safer Internet Centre to develop bilingual Safer Internet Day education packs and I’d encourage all of our schools to take full advantage of these fantastic resources.”

Peter Weir, Education Minister, Northern Ireland:

“Safer Internet Day is an opportunity to increase awareness of online safety for children and parents alike. We all know that the internet is a rich source of information and entertainment which provides many new and exciting opportunities for teaching and learning. However, it is vital that we are aware of the potential dangers and ensure that young people are protected and educated on appropriate and responsible usage.

Safeguarding children online is of paramount importance. The C2k’s Education Network service which is available to all pupils, has been designed with a clear focus on Online Safety. It has built in controls to protect users as well as operating a rigorous internet filtering policy. “Teachers and parents play a crucial role in supporting children to navigate the risks and make the most of technology. Teachers can give pupils opportunities to use and create positive online content and at the same time give them the confidence and the skills to seek help should they encounter problems online. Parents can help by engaging with their children and encouraging them to talk about any concerns.”

Martha Evans, Director, Anti-Bullying Alliance:

“In 2019 the Anti-Bullying Alliance worked with young people to make recommendations to tech companies about how they could address online bullying. Whilst they felt there had been some improvements, particularly by the big social media platforms, to deal with reports of bullying, they were clear that much more must be done. They wanted social media and gaming platforms to do three very important things:

Be clear the types of behaviour that was acceptable on their sites
Act swiftly, fairly and appropriately when bullying did happen
Be transparent about the amount of bullying that is going on.

We support Safer Internet Day and will continue to listen to young people’s views about how we can together to create a better internet for all.”

Javed Khan, Chief Executive, Barnardo’s:

“The internet can be a fantastic force for good but we can’t ignore the risks. Through our work supporting children who are groomed and sexually abused online, we know the internet is still not yet safe enough for children. Just as we have zebra crossings and age restrictions in the online world, we need safety measures online so vulnerable children can communicate, express themselves and have fun.

Barnardo’s is proud to support Safer Internet Day 2020. The welfare of children online remains a top priority for us and other organisations who want the voices of children and young people to be heard by government and the tech industry.

Crucially, new regulations need to be introduced without delay so that all online companies have a duty to keep children safe. We cannot expect children to protect themselves. The tech industry, government, educationalists, the voluntary sector, parents and communities must come together to help make the UK the safest place in the world for children for children to go online.”

Alice Webb, Director of BBC Children’s, BBC:

“The BBC’s Own It app helps children avoid some of the issues that can cause stress and anxiety as they spread their wings and shape their identities online, so this year’s Safer Internet Day theme of ‘Free to be me’ has particular resonance for us.  We are proud to be a part of it.” 

David Austin, Chief Executive, BBFC:

“Film, video and websites can make a huge difference in our lives and, like families across the countries, we want that difference to be a positive one, especially for children and teens. 

That’s why we’re proud to support Safer Internet Day 2020 – which this year is celebrating the theme ‘together for a better internet’. We know from talking to parents how tough it is to navigate the online world safely and we’re here to help with that. Although every family is different, parents, carers and children tell us that age-ratings can be a really useful guide to what’s suitable and that they play a valuable part in helping them decide, and even negotiate, what to watch and what to avoid. 

Our education team work with teachers and schools to produce a range of resources specifically designed for young people, to help them choose content that’s right for them. We’ve worked in partnership with the PSHE association to produce Key Stage 2 and 3 resources, which can be downloaded from our website. Teachers can also find a poster all about age ratings, as well as lots of useful information on our CBBFC website.

This year, we’re very pleased to be supporting the Welsh Government’s short film competition, in which schools across Wales have been invited to make a 1 minute film about online safety. I was very pleased to be a judge on the panel, and every finalist will have their film classified by the BBFC – meaning that they will all receive an official BBFC age rating and famous Black Card. This important competition has done a great job of promoting online safety in schools, and all the entries have been creative, well thought through and carry important messages about staying safe online.”

Lorin LaFave, Founder and Director, Breck Foundation:

“We at Team Breck strive to educate and empower young people to keep safer online by looking after each other and making safer choices within their own online activities and behaviours, whether gaming or socialising.  Safer Internet Day is a brilliant time to think though the key message from our short film, Breck’s Last Game, which was created in collaboration with four police forces, “Do you really know your online friends?”  Young people must be armed with digital resilience to be able to recognise the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, whether online or within their communities.  Our film helps to raise awareness of CSE so that young people can recognise the signs of grooming to avoid the possible harmful outcomes.  Every day is safer internet day for those of us who are passionate about safeguarding, but this day is a celebration of all of our collective success.”

Marc Allera, CEO Consumer, BT:

“At BT, we believe we can break down barriers and unlock huge potential for everyone – no matter who you are, where you live and how old you are – by helping provide people with the digital skills they need. We’re doing this through a tech training programme we call Skills for Tomorrow. Being safe online is a huge part of that, which is why BT is proud to support Safer Internet Day 2020.

Safer Internet Day’s theme of ‘Together for a Better Internet’ is a critical one because it encourages people to work together to embrace today’s connected world. It’s an ambition BT shares. Skills for Tomorrow is designed to help families build understanding and support their children to be safe online. Our goal is to help 10m people, families and businesses make the most of tech and give them the skills they need for a brighter future.”

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England:

“The internet is an amazing place that can provide children with so many amazing opportunities to learn and to express themselves. But it was never designed with children in mind and over the last few years we have all been playing catch up. I want every child using the internet to be safe and happy when they’re doing so. The big tech companies need to raise their game and take more responsibility to ensure that children can benefit from their platforms in ways that are appropriate to their age. They should be held to account when they fail to do so.

My message to all children on Safer Internet Day is to enjoy the great benefits that the online world brings, but also to speak up if you have a problem. As Children’s Commissioner for England, I’ll continue to make sure your voices are heard by the politicians and tech companies so that they can do more to make the internet a safer place for children to spend time.”

Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales:

“As a parent myself, I know how difficult it can be to keep on top of the pace of change in the digital world, and what those changes mean for our children.

Days like today help us all to think about the challenges our children face online, and what we as adults can do to help them manage those challenges.

Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the child, all children have a right to be safe, to privacy, to be listened to and to good quality information. It’s our duty to make sure they get these rights. From social media companies, to Governments, to parents: we all have a role to play to give our children the tools they need to navigate the digital world happily, healthily and safely.”

Tessy Ojo, Chief Executive, The Diana Award:

“Ever-present digital media means young people are growing up with a dependency on developing their ‘online selves’. As offline and online states are increasingly merged into one, it is critical that we empower young people with the tools and emotional intelligence to thrive in all settings.

Safer Internet Day creates the space and the opportunity to bring together everyone involved with technology, right from governments to practitioners to discuss, review and reflect on how we can continually make the internet a safer place for children and young people to thrive.”

Antigone Davis, Director, Global Head of Safety, Facebook:

“Every day, millions of people across the globe spend time on Facebook to share with their community and to stay connected with the people they care about. We recognize the important role we play in creating a safer online community for all and Safer Internet Day is a fantastic opportunity to remind our communities about the importance of safety. This is why we have created “top ten tips” for parents to help their children stay safe on Facebook, along with a family-friendly animation that parents and children can enjoy together.”

Francoise Labode, Youth Advocate, Girlguiding​:

“Safer Internet Day champions the idea that the internet should be a safe place for young people where they are free to express themselves. It recognises that the internet is not always a positive experience for many young people and so it’s important that we start the conversation this Safer Internet Day and discuss how young people are currently using the internet and how it impacts them, to make it a more enjoyable place.”

Rosie Luff, Online Safety Public Policy Manager, Google:

“The Internet remains an educational platform for young people to have a voice, be imaginative, and express themselves. We all have a responsibility to ensure online safety in order to protect this incredible opportunity for young people. Google remains proud to support Childnet and the UK Safer Internet Centre in working together for a better and safer internet.”  

Steve Wood, Deputy Commissioner (Executive Director – Regulatory Strategy), Information Commissioners Office:

“The ICO is proud to support Safer Internet Day, which contributes to the national conversation about online privacy. Children must be protected within the digital world while they learn, explore and play online.

Our Age Appropriate Design Code is a concrete step towards protecting children’s privacy online. There are laws to protect children in the real world and we now need our laws to protect and empower children in the digital world too. In a generation from now, we will find it astonishing that protections for children’s privacy were not designed into digital services by default.”

Carolyn Bunting, CEO, Internet Matters:

“Safer Internet Day is an incredibly important initiative, which Internet Matters is delighted to support. 

It’s essential that we have a collaborative approach to online safety and work together for a better internet. Government, industry, schools and parents all share a responsibility to keep children safe in the digital world, and we aim to help parents with all the necessary tools to empower their children to get the most of the online world and the fantastic opportunities it offers.”

Forbes Duff, Senior Manager CSR, Liverpool FC:

“We are delighted to be supporting Safer Internet Day 2020. It’s important for us to connect with young people to discuss the importance of being safe online, how to maximise the many benefits of the internet and use it as a positive tool for good.  

Now in its fifth year, our Safer Internet Day event at Anfield is the biggest in the UK, which is something we are very proud of.”

Sonia Livingstone, London School of Economics and EU Kids Online:

“I love how Safer Internet Day has become so international, and how it’s strongly evidence-based. Both factors really contribute to its balanced recommendations and positive influence on practice.”

Richard Lawrence, Project Support Assistant, Mencap, and who has a learning disability:

“I enjoy using social media sites like Facebook. A few years ago my Facebook account was hacked and I didn’t know what to do about it. I got very upset but then a trusted friend suggested changing my password and privacy settings to stay safe online. This support was really helpful and that’s why information and guides, like this one produced by Childnet, and Mencap’s SafeSurfing internet safety training course, are so important for parents of children with a learning disability. The Childnet guide helps parents understand how they can keep their children safe online – how to help children with a learning disability understand what content is safe and what content is inappropriate or dangerous, as well as how to talk to them about internet safety in an accessible way. By using this guide, parents can help children with a learning disability have a safe and enjoyable experience online.”

Jacqueline Beauchere, Global Digital Safety Advocate, Microsoft:

“The internet is truly the landmark invention of our lifetime – a place to work, learn, and play, but it’s not without risk. At Microsoft, we’re driven to grow a healthier, safer and more enjoyable online world, and we are further emboldened to do so in partnership with others in industry, government, and civil society. As part of SID, Microsoft is releasing its fourth annual Digital Civility Index, and we challenge everyone around the world to promote digital civility by: living the Golden Rule, respecting differences, pausing before replying, and standing up for oneself and others. Together we can make the internet a kinder, more respectful and more empathetic place. Learn more at:”

Paul Whiteman, General Secretary, NAHT​:

“NAHT has supported Safer Internet Day for many years. We want young people to be informed consumers of technology, safe enough to surf the internet without fear and smart enough to know what to do if they see inappropriate content. We firmly believe that social media and technology companies have a duty of care to make sure their services are safe. Schools offer guidance for pupils about staying safe online during lessons like PSHE. Safer Internet Day is a great way to make sure young people are ‘switched on’ about the risks and benefits of going online.”

Chris Keates, General Secretary (Acting), National Association of Schoolmasters / Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT):

“Technology has truly transformed the learning experiences of many children and young people and made significant improvements to the working lives of many teachers. However, the continued abuse and misuse of technology blights the lives of pupils and teachers, adversely affecting their health and well-being. The NASUWT continues to campaign for greater protection for pupils and teachers from cyber-bullying and sexua

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