Safer Internet Day: Safe Online calls for prioritising #SafeTech to ensure a safe digital future for children & young people

The Issue

1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men have experienced childhood sexual abuse. The issue is further exacerbated by the internet’s vast reach, leading to a shocking increase in child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA). The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has found there is now more child sexual abuse imagery being discovered on the open internet than ever beforewith almost every webpage it worked to remove in 2023 including “self-generated” material extorted from children who have been groomed or coerced by predators. 

Safe Online’s global flagship research project, Disrupting Harm, reveals that across 13 countries alone, up to 20% of 12 to 17-year-olds, amounting to over 5 million children in 2021, have experienced online CSEA.

Technology has made incredible advances over the last few years with generative Artificial Intelligence, and immersive platforms fast becoming a reality of our lives. With these new leaps, come new threats and dangers for children and young people. 

So far, we have been playing catch-up with technology – reacting to new and emerging threats after they have been introduced in our lives. Although countries are reacting to the onslaught of technological threats, their capacities for understanding, managing and regulating technology are extremely varied and regulations at the global level have hardly kept pace with rapid advancements in technology. 

Recent regulations, including the European Union regulation to combat child sexual abuse, the United Kingdom’s Online Safety Act and legislative changes in the U.S have often met with polarised debates around safety and security. The policy and regulatory vacuum at global and national levels combined with a fiercely competitive global market, has resulted in a digital ecosystem that evolves without sufficient consideration for the best interests of children and young people. Recent years have shown us early signs of a potentially troubling digital era, marked by intense technological progress that frequently moves forward without necessary safeguards or controls.

Which is why Safer Internet Day, on February 6, marks an important moment to come together to address urgent challenges. Governments, civil society, businesses, educators and children from across the globe are mobilising on this day to acknowledge and promote the theme of “Together for a better internet”.  

Safe Online believes that a better internet and a safer digital world is where all children and young people can safely enjoy all the benefits the online world has to offer. Now more than ever, there is an urgent need to make sure that this becomes a reality.

Making #SafeTechnology a key priority

Technology can and should be advanced, but its advancement can’t carry on unbridled – responsible and safe technology is not a given – it has to be prioritised by a steadfast commitment to embedding safety of children and young people across the digital ecosystem and actioning that through standards, policies, regulations and responsible investments at global and national levels.

We need to invest in research and data that help us to be forward-looking and understand how these new technologies are impacting children and young people. We need to ensure a ‘vulnerability lens’ for new tech developments and centre on survivors’ voices to prevent risks and threats.

We need governments, global forums, multistakeholder initiatives and the tech industry to prioritise a child-centred approach to advancing technology and to be guided by a clear set of principles and criteria for the same such as UNCRC’s General Comment no 25 and the Global Principles on Digital Safety. We need more coordinated action from Governments, tech companies, and multi-stakeholder initiatives to enhance digital safety on a global scale for all children and young people. 

While 2024 may have inherited the risks of 2023, it has also inherited its prospects. On this Safer Internet Day, let’s channel our efforts into making technology safer for children. We call for unified action in embedding safety in technology standards, policies, and global investments. It’s time for governments, tech companies, and stakeholders to prioritise a child-centred approach in advancing tech. #SafeTechnology is not just a goal, it’s a necessity for a secure digital future for children and young people.”

"While 2024 may have inherited the risks of 2023, it has also inherited its prospects. On this Safer Internet Day, let's channel our efforts into making technology safer for children. #SafeTechnology is not just a goal, it's a necessity for a secure digital future for children and young people."
- Marija Manojlovic, Executive Director, Safe Online

Prioritising safe technology for children and young people for a safer digital future requires a three-pronged strategy: 

Increase in global investment: We need increased, equitable investment globally to tackle digital harms. Safe Online has invested $100M across 100 projects in 86 countries since 2016, but more investment is critically needed.

Future-proof laws: Enact tech-neutral laws anticipating emerging dangers. Mandate safety by design and proactive measures to safeguard children to prevent potential abuses. 

Innovative tech: Leverage cutting-edge technology for protection. Our Safe Online tech portfolio pioneers tools that detect abuse material, verify age, and pierce the dark web veil. Technology for good is our proven strategy. 

Safe Online Impact

The past year was a busy and impactful one for Safe Online – we further strengthened global efforts to make the internet safe for children – from strategic investments to critical research and advocacy, Safe Online has been at the frontline of the battle to tackle online child sexual exploitation and abuse. 

Taking forward our mission of leveraging cutting-edge technology for protection of children and young people, Safe Online recently invested USD $2 million across 10 innovative projects to seed and grow solutions that leverage existing and new technologies to tackle online child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA) adding to our overall investment of nearly $20 million for technology tools since 2016. The new projects will focus not only on technology solutions, but also include research around the use of tech solutions for the two key areas – age assurance and live streaming of abuse in the online CSEA ecosystem.

In the past year alone, Safe Online successfully leveraged key strategic opportunities including high-level events, multi-stakeholder convenings and meetings with Ministers, tech-industry leaders and other key actors to elevate the profile of child online safety, placing it at the forefront of political and sectoral discussions and calling for making safe technology a key priority through strategic investments, and future-proof and tech-neutral standards and regulations. This included participation in the Internet Governance Forum, the launch event of U.S President Biden’s Executive Order on AI and the Paris Peace Forum.  

Finally, the launch of the new Safe Online brand in 2023 led to a renewed commitment to our mission of shaping a digital world that is safe and empowering for all children and young people, everywhere.

Since 2016, Safe Online has been at the forefront of the global battle against online CSEA, investing nearly US $100 million in over 100 projects across 85+ countries.

So far, through our investments, Safe Online has advanced national legal, regulatory and policy frameworks in 70 countries.

20 innovative technology tools deployed in 100+countries

Over 1,500 industry partners have agreed to ICT standards to protect children from online violence since 2017. 

Since 2017, Safe Online has supported 51 reporting mechanisms to identify and remove online CSAM.

Safe Online has helped set up Law Enforcement units in 11 countries. 

So far, Safe Online investments in developing and strengthening ground-breaking technology tools has helped law enforcement identify over 3200 perpetrators; identify 5,533 child victims of online CSEA; and refer over 2600 to rehabilitation services.

What are Safe Online grantees doing to support a Safer Internet Day? Read here

Image: © UNICEF

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On 30-31 May 2022, End Violence’s Safe Online initiative brought together over 40 grantees and partners from across the world alongside donors, and industry representatives from the Tech Coalition in a unique opportunity aligned around a common vision to end online child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA).

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Our purpose in detail

We are here to ensure every child and young person grows in to the digital world feeling safe, and is protected from harm.

We support, champion, and invest in innovative partners from the public, private, and third sectors working towards the same objective.

We believe in equipping guardians and young people with the skills to understand and see danger themselves once accessing digital experiences without supervision.

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