World association

Parisian leaders call to protect children online

PARIS (AP) – Internet giants including social media apps Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat joined with some world leaders in a global call to better protect children online at a summit in Paris on Thursday.

The appeal, launched by France and UNICEF, the United Nations agency for the protection of children, recognizes that “in the digital environment, children can be confronted with harmful and violent content and manipulation of information. Like adults, children have privacy rights, which must be respected.

The text also listed “threats amplified by technology”, including cyberbullying, sexual abuse, prostitution, human trafficking, sexual and gender-based violence or violent radicalization online.

“We call on all governments, online service providers and relevant organizations to stand up for children’s rights in the digital environment,” he said.

Signatories include Amazon, Google and Youtube, Facebook and the parent company of Instagram, Meta, Microsoft, Snapchat and Twitter. The call was also joined by eight countries including France, Italy, Argentina, Jordan and Morocco – but not the United States.

Thirty heads of state and government and US Vice President Kamala Harris attended the Paris Peace Forum which opened on Thursday. The summit, held both in person and online, brings together world leaders, CEOs, NGOs and others to discuss global issues such as the climate, the COVID-19 pandemic and the digital transition.

Macron chaired the session on children’s rights in the presence of Youtube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Amazon senior vice president Russel Grandinetti.

“We need to regulate content and authorization tools so that an 8-year-old, 10-year-old, 15-year-old (…) cannot be exposed to all content without rules,” Macron said. This has to go through parental controls installed by default on some tools, he said. He also insisted on the need to educate children about the risks of social media.

Macron, Harris, European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also participated in another roundtable on digital regulation, alongside Microsoft President Brad Smith. Harris announced that the United States is joining the Paris Appeal launched in 2018 to improve security and better regulate cyberspace.

Child rights advocates have for years urged internet giants to take action to better protect children.

Disclosures last month from whistleblower Frances Haugen showing internal Facebook studies into Instagram’s damage to teens only heightened parents’ concerns about the popular photo-sharing app.

Justine Atlan, head of “E-Enfance”, an advocacy group for the protection of children on the Internet, participated in the Paris Peace Forum.

“You can build a lot of tools … but all these features are useless because children lie about their age. For me that’s the big deal, ”she said. “That’s why I think we all have to work together and find solutions. ”

Nora Fraisse, head of a French association for the fight against school bullying, hailed “a key moment” because it puts “international pressure” on the internet giants.

Fraisse founded “Marion La Main Tendue” (“Marion the outstretched hand”) after her daughter, Marion, committed suicide at the age of 13 because she was bullied at school.

“Those who spread hate through their pipes bear some responsibility,” she said of popular social media apps like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. Cyberbullying and school bullying are often interconnected.

Fraisse said social media companies should ask for proof of identity first and have better control over what content is posted.

Social media companies have generally banned children under the age of 13 from signing up for their services, although it has been widely documented that children register anyway, with or without their parents’ permission.

Fraisse, who speaks in schools about online risks, also called for better educating children and parents on these issues.

She cited a national study her association commissioned this year which showed that the proportion of those who have attempted suicide is higher among children bullied in school (12%) than among the general population. (7%).

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