This week nearly 400 Internet safety advocates are expected to attend the third annual Family Online Safety Institute Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C. The event, which is expected to draw attendees from 14 countries, is a gathering of Internet safety advocates from industry, nonprofit groups, academia, and government.
The theme of this year's conference, "Building a Culture of Responsibility: From Online Safety to Digital Citizenship," reflects a significant change in the thinking of many online safety experts. "Of course we need to teach basic safety skills," said FOSI CEO Stephen Balkam, "but we need to move to the next stage which includes digital citizenship and responsibility."
Speakers at the conference will include Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), author of a bill that would increase federal funding for Internet safety. White House Deputy Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin (formerly of Google) will be talking about the Obama administration's efforts to increase awareness on Net safety issues. Dr. Tanya Byron, author of a report on the British government's 2008 national policy on child safety online will talk about her country's efforts to dial-down the fear factor and increase awareness on how to empower young people to better manage online risks. Other sessions will focus on the safety needs of "seniors and grandparents," challenges facing young people's use of mobile devices, and psychological issues kids face online.
Attorneys General Patrick Lynch of Rhode Island and Robert McKenna of Washington will speak on how law enforcement is dealing with youth online risk. Nearly all U.S. state attorneys general have expressed concerns about Internet predators, cyberbullying, sexting, and other potential crimes committed against and--in some cases--by children and teens. Last year a coalition of 49 attorneys general created the Internet Safety Technical Task Force which, in January, issued a report saying that children are less vulnerable to predators than had been feared but are more likely to be harmed by peer-to-peer bullying as well as self-destructive online behaviors.
I will also be a speaker as will my ConnectSafely.org co-director and NetFamily News editor Anne Collier. We will be formally releasing our "Online Safety 3.0" paper which calls for moving away from fear-based messages toward an emphasis on media literacy and digital citizenship, including recognizing young people not as "victims" but as stakeholders in positive Internet use. Instead of schools filtering out access to social-networking sites, we believe they should be incorporating social media not only to enhance learning but to promote responsibility. Along with others attending the conference, we will call for expanding the public discussion on Internet safety to include more physicians, mental health professionals, social workers, tech educators, and other experts.
The conference which runs Wednesday and Thursday at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington will also feature an exhibition where companies and nonprofits will show a variety of online safety tools.