The February edition of IFLA’s newsletter explores some of the key current discussions and recent initiatives around internet safety and wellbeing. In this month’s interview, the Dynamic Coalition on Children’s Rights in the Digital Environment outlines what the present online safety policy and practice landscape can mean for libraries.

DC-Children’s Rights in the Digital Environment is a multi-stakeholder coalition at the Internet Governance Forum. It brings together civil society, public sector and industry representatives to foster dialogue around the issues which impact the fundamental rights and safety of young people and children online. John Carr, OBE, a Senior Technical Adviser to ECPAT International and a founding member of this Dynamic Coalition, tells more:

The Coalition noted the evolving and broad nature of the risks and opportunities for young users online – not only from the perspective of their right to protection, but also their rights to education, freedom of expression and access information, privacy, and others. What key developments from the past 12 months would you highlight?

John Carr (JC): More and more high quality educational and cultural resources are becoming available online and in an even greater spread of languages, not just English and the other major European languages. Communications technologies are also improving, becoming more ubiquitous as they become cheaper and easier to use.

Schools and educational bodies, including, rather obviously, libraries are becoming more adept at using the possibilities presented by digital technologies. Partly the pandemic has driven these developments and partly it is the culmination of trends which have been gathering pace over several years.

However, what we have also seen arising during the pandemic are increased risks to children and here, in almost every liberal democracy in the world new regulatory regimes are being developed. People have given up on self-regulation because we now know it really means no regulation or inconsistently applied regulation.

In the Coalition’s view, what role can training and skills-building play in keeping young users safe? What key skills, capacities or information can help children and young adults navigate today’s digital environments safely (and for the caregivers to effectively support them)?

JC: Empowering children to get the best out of the available technologies must always be the No. 1 goal of policy, and that includes helping them to understand how to stay safe, the importance of evaluating and recognizing good sources of information. Technical measures to support these goals can also be very important, but we cannot place all or too much responsibility on children.

Different stakeholder groups have varying responsibilities and ways to contribute to building a better and safer internet for young users. The experiences of libraries in this field include, for example, offering learning opportunities around digital and media literacy for children and young adults, facilitating access to high-quality and suitable digital resources, awareness-raising campaigns around digital rights and online safety, and so on. Drawing on the DC’s experience, is there any advice you could give on ways to maximise the impacts of such community-based and user-focused interventions to help protect children’s rights online?

JC: The Coalition’s focus is very much on the policy end of things. We don’t run projects on the ground although many members of the coalition do. All I will say on this is we cannot always rely on the market to come up with the kind of high-quality resources for children. Sometimes the state needs to be ready to step in with financial support.