Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Safer Internet Day. 20 years might not seem such a long time, but in the digital world it is a lifetime and many are the new challenges the internet is nowadays posing to children and young people.
One out of three users online is a child and children are spending more and more time online: which calls for specific measures and specialized approaches from the legislator.
This situation raises a number of concerns, as well as highlights a huge plethora of opportunities for children and young people.
It is fair to say that the internet was not designed for children and has created some social distortions in the way of interaction among them. The three intrinsic characteristics that made the internet successful, disruptive, pervasive, and fast do not take into consideration children’s vulnerability. We have seen how the internet has the potential to shake the very fabric of our societies, with the huge widespread of disinformation, if we let it run unchecked.
The business model of the social media platforms – entirely based on constantly producing new content to increase the interactions, a number of views, and re-sharing – is largely benefitting the companies, who are able to collect a huge amount of data, at the expense of children and youth who are left alone in uncharted waters without any compass.
Far from portraying a dystopian alarmist scenario, it is of paramount importance that we acknowledge, as a society, that the situation we face on the internet has gotten out of our hands and try and put our house in order before it is too late.
The very principle of the internet for all falls short of its alleged promise and it often has a huge toll on children and the most vulnerable individuals in our societies.
In such a scenario, the legislator has to step in and address the challenges children and young people face today by providing specific rules also to offer a fair degree of legal certainty. It should be up to us, legislators, to provide the legal framework within which online communication services providers operate to ensure that children are safe online, as well as a fair level playing field.
It is not about bashing the online communication services providers, but it is about expecting those providers to take their share of responsibilities: it is as simple as that!
I am the spokesperson and rapporteur for my group on the Proposal for a regulation to prevent and combat child sexual abuse and exploitation.
These are among the most heinous crimes of all time that haunt child victims well into adulthood, living vivid scars on them that are hard to heal.
The EU is showing strong and firm leadership in this ecosystem and we are now on the verge of becoming the first jurisdiction in the world to include a legal obligation for all online communication services providers to detect and report all instances of child sexual abuse online and remove all child sexual abuse material.
We cannot let the internet become a safe haven for perpetrators of child sexual abuse. I wholeheartedly support this proposal that embeds safety-by-design features and shifts the responsibility from children – who should never bear the burden of the proof in the first place – to the perpetrators and service providers alike.
It is essential for me that we give victims back control of their lives and that we oblige companies to remove the images portraying the sexual abuse of the victim. Only when all the images are taken off the internet we can give the victims back their agency and avoid their re-victimization at every single new view of those very images.
As a mother, and a legislator, I will do everything in my power to ensure that no child will have to suffer such atrocities, while also putting in place robust safeguards to fully respect the privacy and data protection of all users. Privacy and children’s rights are not mutually exclusive.
Legislation is not the only answer, more needs to be done on prevention, but we cannot allow the internet to enable sick individuals in our societies to make full use of online services to recruit new victims!
Gepubliceerd in Brussels Morning op 7/02/2023.