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Council of Europe: Life on the Internet is what WE make of it

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Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General, Council of Europe

The Internet is a powerful and positive tool but it also creates new threats to our confidence, safety and well-being.

Children are especially vulnerable and depend on adults; this is true in the real world and the virtual world. They cannot defend themselves against all threats, including those on the Internet. One example of such vulnerability is the development of pro-anorexia websites which encourage children and young people to lose weight in order to look “beautiful?. While adults understand the consequences of such messages, most children do not.

The power of Internet content to influence our behaviour should never be overlooked or underestimated. For many, the response to this has been to promote media literacy which, for the Council of Europe, means media literacy within a human rights and human dignity framework.

Is children’s well-being on the Internet and the need for them to develop media literacy skills simply a matter of choice? I do not think so. Their well-being is an obligation for us adults. We cannot leave them alone with discretionary tools at their fingertips which make them face harmful content.

In the Council of Europe we do not leave children alone to face these issues. We are developing the Internet dimensions of their rights on a daily basis. We are acutely aware and constantly underline that children have human rights just like adults.

So life on the Internet is not only about what we make of it as individual users on the Internet, it is what we make of it collectively. The best example is the collective approach of the member states of the Council of Europe to agree on the need for everyone to exercise and enjoy human rights through the European Convention on Human Rights, also online. And everyone, means everyone. There is no footnote in the European Convention on Human Rights saying that it applies to “adults only?. Another very important collective approach has been to protect the best interests of children everywhere through the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.

But more needs to be done to protect the dignity, security and privacy of children on the Internet while, at the same time, allowing them the freedom to express and inform themselves so that they grow up feeling well and confident.

Children cannot be left alone on the Internet without the assistance of responsible teachers, parents and carers. Their confidence, safety and well-being on the Internet is a shared responsibility for all stakeholders – parents, teachers, companies, civil society and governments. In this framework, there are important responsibilities for our governments to effectively secure our human rights on the Internet. But there are also important responsibilities for private companies who design and make available the information and communication technologies for the Internet.

To conclude, the Internet is “our business?, it belongs to all of us, and must not become a virtual jungle, where its inherent freedom and anonymity are being abused.

The Council of Europe takes this responsibility very seriously. Today marks the launch of 13 new language versions[1] of our online game “Through the Wild Web Woods?, a world in which children can play in a fun and friendly fairy-tale environment while learning about their human rights and how to stay safe on the Internet. Try out the game yourself :
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I also encourage you to have a look at the Council of Europe Internet Literacy Handbook, a set of fact sheets for teachers and parents to promote safe and ethical use of the Internet, translated into 9 different languages (Bulgarian, English, French, Greek, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Turkish). Have a look at our Internet literacy website where you can also explore our other online tools and materials on human rights and Internet safety.

Maud de Boer-Buquicchio
Deputy Secretary General
Council of Europe

Useful Links:

http://www.coe.int
http://www.coe.int/t/secretarygeneral/sga/default_en.asp
http://www.coe.int/t/transversalprojects/children/default_en.asp
http://www.wildwebwoods.org
http://www.coe.int/T/E/Human_Rights/Media/hbk_en.html
http://www.coe.int/t/dc/files/events/internet/default_en.asp

[1] The game is now available in 14 different languages: Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Turkish.

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