Internet giants, such as Google, Amazon, Meta, Twitter, and Snapchat, joined world leaders in issuing a call to protect children online globally at a summit in Paris on 11th November 2021.
Initiated by France and UNICEF, the call acknowledges that “in the digital environment, children can come across harmful and violent content and manipulation of information. Just like adults, children have rights to privacy, which should be respected.”
“Threats amplified by technology” was also mentioned, referring to prostitution, human trafficking, cyberbullying, sexual abuse, sexual and gender-based violence, or violent online radicalization.
The text “calls upon all governments, online services providers and relevant organizations to stand up for children’s rights in the digital environment.”
Eight nations joined the call, including France, Italy, Argentina, Jordan and Morocco, although the United States was notably absent.
At the time, 30 heads of state and government and Kamala Harris, Vice-President of the United States, were participating in the Paris Peace Forum. Organized both in-person and online, the summit brings together world leaders, CEOs, NGOs, and others to discuss global issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and digital transition.
The session about children’s rights was chaired by Emmanuel Macron.
“We must regulate contents and authorization tools so that an 8-year-old, a 10-year-old, a 15-year-old child … cannot be exposed to all contents without rules,” Macron said. He advocated for parental controls to be installed by default on some tools. He also mentioned the need to educate children on the risks of social media.
Macron, Harris, EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also participated in another roundtable on regulating the digital domain, along with Microsoft president Brad Smith. Harris announced that the U.S. is joining the Paris Call launched in 2018 to improve security and better regulate cyberspace.
Internet giants have long been urged to take to better protect children on the internet by children’s rights advocates.
Whistleblower Frances Haugen talked about internal Facebook studies on the harm of Instagram on teenagers that have intensified parents’ concerns about the popular social media app.
Justine Atlan, head of “E-Enfance,” a group advocating the protection of children on the internet, also participated in the Paris Peace Forum.
“We can build a lot of tools … but all these functionalities are useless because children lie about their age. For me, this is the big issue,” she said. “That’s why I think we all need to work together and find solutions.”
Nora Fraisse, head of a French association fighting school bullying, praised “a key moment” that puts “international pressure” on internet giants.
Fraisse founded “Marion La Main Tendue” (“Marion The Outstretched Hand”) after her own daughter, Marion, committed suicide at the age of 13 due to harassment at school.
“Those who are spreading hatred via their pipes hold some responsibility,” she said about popular social media apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. Cyberbullying and bullying at school are often intertwined.
Fraisse asked for social media companies to request some proof of identity as a first step and exercise better control over published content.
Social media companies have generally banned kids under 13 from signing up for their services, although it’s commonly known that children sign up regardless by lying about their ages. They sign up with or without their parents’ permission.
Fraisse, who speaks in schools about online risks, also called for better education for children and parents on these issues.
A nationwide study her association commissioned this year was also cited that showed the proportion of those who attempted suicide is higher among children bullied at school (12%) than in the general population (7%).