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Safer Internet Day 2021 – bigger than ever as millions take part in global celebrations

Image of Safer Internet Day 2021 – bigger than ever as millions take part in global celebrations

by Will Gardner

16 February 2021

Will Gardner is a Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre and CEO of Childnet, one of the three charity partners in the centre. He sits on the Executive Board of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. 

Will Gardner OBE, a Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, reflects on the huge success of Safer Internet Day 2021.

Last 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. We know that with lockdown, the Safer Internet Day celebrations were a bit different than usual, but we are delighted to see how many people got involved this year!

The theme for this year’s Safer Internet Day in the UK was ‘An internet we trust: exploring reliability in the online world’. The campaign saw so many come together to help inspire a national conversation about using technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively. Over 2,100 organisations across the UK delivered activities for the day, including schools, police forces, government, companies, football clubs, charities and others. There is still a 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 Evening Standard 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 we saw the #SaferInternetDay hashtag trending at number one in the UK throughout the day, accompanied by the hashtag emoji. It was amazing to see the huge number of schools, organisations, an even the Pope tweeting about the day!

The #AnInternetWeTrust campaign also trended on the day with young people across the country sharing their offline templates decorated with the ways they could help create an internet they can trust.

We’ve also seen millions engage with the day online in fun and creative ways from a unique emoji on Twitter, a filter on Snapchat, our Guinness World Records Attempt, and a #besafebehappy TikTok challenge. We saw schools, organisations, football clubs and wider express what they wanted from a better internet, including what they can do to help create #AnInternetWeTrust.

In the weeks leading up to 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. In fact – so many people took part in our virtual celebrations, it broke the UK Safer Internet Centre website!

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 how young people are managing reliability and misleading content online. From surveying over 2,000 children, the report reveals that young people of all ages, from as young as 8, are regularly encountering misleading content and have experienced approaches, such as friend requests, from people they don’t know. 

The research found that misleading content is an increasingly significant feature of young people’s online experience, with 51% agreeing that they see more misleading information online than they did before in 2020. 48% of young people are seeing misleading content every day and more than 1 in 10 are seeing it more than six times a day. 60% also report seeing either their peers or influencers, bloggers, celebrities or people in the public eye share misleading content.

This voice of young people was championed in virtual 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.

We also worked with young people to develop a Young People’s Charter for Safer Internet Day 2021 on how government and online stakeholders can help create a more trustworthy internet. We have produced this Charter from speaking to primary and secondary age children in focus groups, consulting members of the Youth Advisory Board, Childnet Digital Leaders and Digital Champions, surveying young people, and reviewing the findings from our latest research.

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 49% 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 both online and in person, 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.