Safer Internet Day: Let's Create, Connect and Share Respect

Stephen Balkam
February 6, 2018

Every February, Safer Internet Day serves as an effective first “checkpoint” in each new year. How far have we come since last year, and what changes and new priorities are steering the course? In 2018, we find ourselves in challenging times. There are profound political, social, and cultural difficulties unfolding around the globe, and we see the best and worst of it playing out across our screens. Our children see it, too.

But these difficult times are also an opportunity. An opportunity for us as adults, parents, teachers, industry leaders, and even politicians, to go back to basics.

Today, as we celebrate this day dedicated to online safety, it would be good for us all to pause and take a moment to ask ourselves: How am I creating a better Internet for myself and the next generation? What steps can I take to better protect myself (and my kids) while also building trust and civility in what I post, share, or participate in? Who can I support or connect with to show respect or overcome personal differences?

It is as simple (though still challenging) as following the Golden Rule:

Do onto others online, as we would want others to do onto us, on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and the rest.

Don’t just think before you post. Feel it, too. Develop your empathic skills. How will this other person receive what I’m about to upload? What impact will I have with my words, photos, videos, shares and tweets?

It may mean that you’ll have to slow down your reactions and responses. Take an extra moment to check in with your head and your heart. Is what I am about to post true, as far as I can tell? Does this feel right? Is it golden? If so, send. If not, delete.

An important part of this year’s Safer Internet Day message is “create.” Can we combat the ugly things we see online by contributing positive content and messaging of our own? Most importantly, can we teach children to be positive creators as part of their development as digital citizens? As parents, this would be a good time to consider how you can better protect your kids online, while also modeling good behavior yourself.

Follow the “7 Steps to Good Digital Parenting” and keep an ongoing, open dialogue about their activities online. Get their ideas about what rules should be in place, then sign an online safety contract and keep it visible for all to see. Ask them to teach you things, and find opportunities to use technology together.

Go back to the most important basic: Look up from your phone or tablet or laptop long enough to reconnect in real time with your children. They learn far more by what you do and how you do it, than what you tell them to do.

Thoughtful tweeting, conscious posting and empathic responses are just the beginning. I am hopeful that this Safer Internet Day we will all take the time to explore the vast resources of the outstanding online safety community, and put them into practice for creating a better and empowered digital world for all.

Written by

Stephen Balkam

For the past 30 years, Stephen Balkam has had a wide range of leadership roles in the nonprofit sector in the 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.