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Childnet Digital Champions reflect on their discussion with the UN

Published: 28th March 2023

We currently have eight Digital Champions who underwent an application process to be selected as our youth representative board. The Digital Champions help the Childnet Digital Leaders team to ensure that the programme is youth led.

They represent a youth voice which is essential to the programme’s success and support us with module development, content creation, events and consultation, as well as representing the programme in the wider online safety community.

Introduction by Digital Champion Aimee

On Saturday the 4th of March, I co-moderated a call between the many youth representatives across Europe and Dr Najat Maala M’jid, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children.

The call was broken up into 5 main discussions:

  • The role of the UN and the mandate in addressing violence online
  • The role of governments in addressing violence online
  • The role of companies in addressing violence online
  • The role of children in addressing violence online
  • The role of the broader communities in addressing violence online.

Each section consisted of questions sent in from youth around the world and also questions from youth in the audience, with Najat answering them. I personally moderated the section about the role of the UN and the mandate in addressing violence online, where I was able to ask my own personal questions about the UN’s future involvement in helping the campaign.

Making international change

I learnt so much on this call, from both Najat and the other youth present. It was very interesting to hear the opinions of people from around the world. One main problem that stayed with me after the call is the problems faced in countries who don’t put a large focus on digital safety. Najat brought up how as representatives, we should try to make our campaigns accessible to countries and the youth of countries who don’t naturally have a large campaign for online safety. This was really compelling for me as I had never thought about this before but it is such an important factor in trying to campaign for change. It is definitely something I will keep in mind going forward.

Thinking about the future

In the future, Najat emphasized that everything that had been discussed will be taken to higher decision makers, and Industry, so that our voices will be heard and our requests will be acted on which is really motivating for us as we all want to see a positive change. I really enjoyed my experience. It was nice to be a part of such a wide discussion and be able to discuss such large issues with people who can help us make a significant change. It was also great to be able to hear the opinions and questions from other youths and youth representatives from around the world.

Digital Champion Cosima delves into more detail about the call…

Who else was on the call?

Other than Najat, there were roughly 50 young people on the call from members of Safer Internet Centres around Europe, and some familiar faces from other youth advisory boards and organisations who operate around the continent.

What was discussed?

The dialogue was broken down into 5 sections: an introduction to the project given by Dr M’jid and her team, a discussion on the prevention of Violence Against Children in which pre-submitted questions submitted by myself and the other members were posed to Najat by my fellow DC Aimee who was one of the youth moderators; a discussion on the role of tech companies in the protection of young people against VAC (violence against children) online in the same format; a discussion on the role of governments and other governing bodies such as the UN in stopping VAC in the digital world; and another discussion on the role of children in solving the issue of VAC in which myself and my fellow young people on the call were asked by Najat to outline what we had done and where we felt there was further to go.

Did you learn anything new?

I learned so much from participating in this event, from the way the UN approaches issues with conflicting legislation between borders such as internet regulation, to the shared and differing experiences and perspectives of my fellow youth online safety advocates around the world on the online issues that affect us all.

What was so unique about this event was that because almost every participant was from a different nation, including the SRSG herself, everyone had different examples of issues that had occurred and resolutions they had come across specific to the characteristics of their country, and yet the consensus was still very much the same which only further reflected the fact that VAC in the digital world and in general, is an issue that is important to all of us no matter our circumstances and that if we listen to each other that message is only amplified which was really incredible.

Did you share anything?

Amazingly, I managed to share in all of the different discussions throughout the event. Prior to the meeting I had submitted a question on the dangers the SRSG anticipated with the launch of the Metaverse on children and how she felt they could be prevented. On the topic of the role of tech companies I asked where Najat felt the responsibility lied in terms of regulating the impacts of misinformation on social media, and if she thought recent developments such as the increased support systems and restrictions were enough.

Regarding the role of governing bodies such as the UN and individual governments, I asked Dr M’jid, in light of the anticipated passing of the online safety bill, how the UN navigates the differing legislation between countries when trying to combat two issues such as VAC and where she felt said processes could improve. Lastly, when asked what I had personally been doing to combat VAC in the online world, I responded on the work of Safer Internet Day this year and it’s impacts so far, as well as the work myself and my fellow Digital Champions had done on consulting with different organisations to improve social media and the management of its impacts on young people.

What are the next steps?

On the 16th of March, the SRSG took to the 52nd Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva to present her report on Violence Against Children in the Digital Environment that our dialogue contributed to from, and presented the child friendly version of the report to the online world, from which responses will be gathered in the coming weeks.

How did you find the experience?

I found the experience incredibly insightful and so, so, incredibly cool. As someone who does Model UN, and a youth advocate myself, which I later discovered Najat was too as a teenager(!), I had a major lightbulb moment, as I realised that that could maybe be me some day, working in a place like the UN to get heard and solve an issue that affects literally billions of children all over the world. It was also so amazing to see so many familiar faces from previous work that we’ve done such as the Microsoft event last year, and so many new faces from countries that I had never interacted with before such as Serbia and Moldova and to get to listen to everyone’s different projects and thoughts.

It sounds so cliché, but as someone who works so closely with the issue both in and out of school, it was so heart-warming almost to hear that other people around the world wanted to fix it too, and in so many different ways – I was literally scribbling down ideas on a napkin as we went through as I ended up taking the call from a Pret in London because it was the only (relatively) quiet space in London on a Saturday afternoon!


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