EU to spend $83 mil on Safer Internet program


BRUSSELS -- The European Commission has announced a 55 million euro ($83 million), five-year plan to protect children from illegal content on the Internet and online bullying.

The Safer Internet program, which will run from 2009-13, will cover Web 2.0 services such as social networking on sites including Facebook and MySpace and the massive growth in online multiplayer gaming. It will fight not only illegal content but also harmful behavior such as bullying and "grooming."

"Safer Internet is a good example of a European program that has direct consequences on citizen's daily lives," European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said. "As more and more European children and adolescents use online technologies at home or at school, they, their parents and their teachers need to be informed about the opportunities and risks they face."

The program aims to create a safer online environment for children by promoting self-regulatory initiatives and greater awareness. The commission promises that where there is illegal content online, rapid and determined action by public authorities will be ensured by strengthened reporting systems.

The program has four major strands: reducing illegal content and harmful content online; promoting a safer online environment generally; raising public awareness of the issue; and setting up a knowledge base on the use of new technologies by children.

It hopes to create national contact points for reporting illegal content and digital bullying. There will be a special emphasis on pornographic material and "grooming," the practice of lowering inhibitions of youngsters in preparation for sexual abuse.

Youth panels involving kids themselves, as well as other actions targeting parents and teachers would aim at both improving the online environment and ensuring children and adults close to them are aware of such illegal activities online and what they look like.