Let's Choose to Create a Better Internet

Stephen Balkam
February 6, 2015

Today is Safer Internet Day. Now in its 11th year, SID, as it is commonly known, grew from a European Union initiative to what is now a global movement with activities, events and happenings in over 100 countries on 7 continents. I’ll be joining such luminaries as Attorney General Kamala Harris, Sheryl Sandberg and Otha Thornton, the President of the National PTA along with 300 participants, many of them teens, at the US SID event at Facebook.

The global tag line for SID is “Let’s create a better internet together.” What I like about the slogan is its emphasis on creating – not simply a safer, but a better Internet. And while this is a collective effort, it so often comes down to individual choices, to do good online or not.

Today is a good day to reflect on how we, and our kids, promote a safer and more responsible use of digital technology.

In a small way, we are co-creators of the Internet every time we log on, send a text or upload a photo. In what might seem to be in an insignificant way, we add to the tone, tenor and nature of the web by our actions, by what we contribute and by what we choose not to respond to. We can do One Good Thing or we can add to someone’s hurt feelings or worse. Today is a good day to reflect on how we, and our kids, promote a safer and more responsible use of digital technology.

Do we choose to:

  • be an upstander rather than a bystander when we encounter bullying online?
  • report a problem on social media or simply pass it along?
  • use the web to confront personal and social injustice or to spread hate and intolerance?
  • life up or to tear down?

Let’s use this day to not only reflect on our actions (or inactions) but also to consciously create safer, more respectful and civil online spaces. If you have them, talk with your kids about the importance of good digital citizenship. If you have older parents or seniors in your life, check to see if they are safe and secure in their online encounters and encourage them to be co-creators, too. This wonderful documentary will provide some great ideas for connecting the older folks in your life in a fun and uplifting way.

And for all you parents out there, try out these 7 Steps to Good Digital Parenting. There are tips, tools, resources and videos on all aspects of parenting in the digital age. We need to hone our own skills and to be able to talk with confidence to our kids if we’re going to help them create a better Internet to grow up and thrive in.

Let’s do it today.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.

Written by

Stephen Balkam

For the past 30 years, Stephen Balkam has had a wide range of leadership roles in the nonprofit sector in both the US and UK. He is currently the Founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), an international, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, DC. FOSI’s mission is to make the online world safer for kids and their families. FOSI convenes the top thinkers and practitioners in government, industry and the nonprofit sectors to collaborate and innovate and to create a “culture of responsibility” in the online world.

Prior to FOSI, Stephen was the Founder and CEO of the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA) and led a team which developed the world’s leading content labeling system on the web. While with ICRA, Stephen served on the US Child Online Protection Commission (COPA) in 2000 and was named one of the Top 50 UK Movers and Shakers, Internet Magazine, 2001.

In 1994, Stephen was named the first Executive Director of the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC) which created a unique self-labeling system for computer games and then, in 1996, Stephen launched RSACi – a forerunner to the ICRA website labeling system. For his efforts in online safety, Stephen was given the 1998 Carl Bertelsmann Prize in Gutersloh, Germany, for innovation and responsibility in the Information Society and was invited to the first and subsequent White House Internet Summits during the Clinton Administration.

Stephen’s other positions include the Executive Director of the National Stepfamily Association (UK); General Secretary of the Islington Voluntary Action Council; Executive Director of Camden Community Transport as well as management positions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (London) and Inter-Action. Stephen’s first job was with Burroughs Machines (now Unisys) and he had a spell working for West Nally Ltd – a sports sponsorship PR company.

Stephen received a BA, magna cum laude, in Psychology from University College, Cardiff, Wales in 1977. A native of Washington, DC, Stephen spent many years in the UK and is now has dual citizenship. He writes regularly for the Huffington Post, appears often on TV and has appeared on nationally syndicated TV and radio programs such as MSNBC, CNN, NPR and the BBC and has been interviewed by leading newspapers such as the Washington Post, New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, radio and in the mainstream press. He has given presentations and spoken in 15 countries on 4 continents.