Kuwait Conference addresses the challenges for an ethical and safe cyberspace for youth

The first conference on protecting children and youth from the risks of social media activities was held in Kuwait from 21 to 23 March 2017. It aimed at examining innovative ways and measures on how to protect young people from the dangers and challenges of the social media, related to ethical, legal, social and educational aspects.

The event was organized under the patronage of His Highness, the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah and gathered renowned experts from Kuwait, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States, Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, the United States of America, Mexico and INTERPOL, to joint efforts and strengthen cooperation for addressing rising threats posed by the new virtual reality.

At the opening ceremony, on behalf of the Kuwaiti Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Mr Sheikh Khaled Al-Jarrah Al-Sabah, expressed hopes that this conference will raise further awareness about the important issues at stake and present possible solutions. He further referred to the crucial role of parents in protecting children from the negative impact of social media. “The first line of defense for protection lays with the family, and particularly the parents, through controlling and observing the websites and programmes children use, in addition to warning them on the harmful ones,” he said.

Dr Boyan Radoykov, from UNESCO’s Knowledge Societies Division, Communication and Information Sector, underlined that ensuring safe cyberspace for young people must remain high on the national agendas, strategies and legislation. He then presented the work of UNESCO and its Information for All Programme (IFAP) in this area and emphasized that “embracing coherent ethical guidelines is essential in face of increasing globalization”. “Thus, the definition and adoption of best practices and voluntary, self-regulatory, professional and ethical guidelines should be encouraged among media professionals, information producers, users and service providers with due respect to freedom of expression,” he added.

Content in cyberspace can have far-reaching and harmful consequences for children and youth. A mass of unverified, contradictory information is made available to them, some of which is highly emotive, that can have a long-term effect on their stability and personality. Furthermore, extremist groups are increasingly effective in using Internet and social media in order to promote hatred and violence. The participants thus agreed that using lengthily social media could have a considerable and sometimes negative influence on children, who may suffer from health and psychological problems, in addition to being subjected to cybercrimes, identity theft, blackmailing or even to sexual harassment.

As a consequence, the involvement and increased cooperation among governmental bodies, educational institutions, international organizations, private sector and NGOs is required in order to ensure an enabling online environment and to teach the children in positive ways to use social media. In that respect, Media and Information Literacy programmes (MIL) are essential. UNESCO’s representative insisted that Internet should be used as a tool to empower young people, enabling them to express and reach their aspirations for the benefit of all society. This calls for new skills in media and cultural literacy, as well as quality education and new forms of global citizenship.

The participants also called on the moral corporate responsibility of the Internet providers that should be fully involved in finding solutions and in dealing with threats that are targeting children and youth in cyberspace.

Ethical principles for knowledge societies derive from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and include the right to freedom of expression, universal access to information, the right to education, the right to privacy and the right to participate in cultural life. The international debate on information ethics addresses the ethical, legal and societal aspects of the applications of information and communication technologies (ICTs). UNESCO, through its Information for All Programme (IFAP), seeks to address these challenges towards equitable, inclusive and participatory global knowledge societies.