By Lynette Owens
This originally appeared in the Huffington Post on February 7, 2017.
Today, we celebrate Safer Internet Day, a time when the world recognizes the importance of helping young people, and frankly all people, become safe, responsible, and successful navigators of the internet and enthusiasts of technology. Over the years, Safer Internet Day has grown in significance, scope, and geographic reach. It has moved beyond the conversation about online risks and how to avoid them, and is now a campaign engaging everyone to help make the internet as great a place as it can be.
As a security software and services corporation with a ton of knowledge and expertise about how to stay safe online, we have always felt strongly that Safer Internet Day is an important day to be involved. But, unlike every other day of the year, when we dispense our insights and advice on how to stay safe, act responsibly, and use the internet productively, we have viewed Safer Internet Day as a time for us to stop and listen. This is how the ‘What’s Your Story?’ campaign was born.
Too often, young people are not included in conversations concerning their safety or well-being online, yet we commonly assume that they are some of the earliest adopters and experimenters with the latest apps, games, and devices. Most young people have mastered technology at speeds that most adults cannot match, with 92% of US teens going online daily and 99% of Canadian teens having access to the internet outside of school. And, they are savvy. In my experience, many are in tune to some of the weaknesses and pitfalls of these technologies, and are willing to tell you about their discoveries and how they have learned to avoid getting into trouble. They are forthcoming about what they like and don’t like about an app, why a website is so popular among their cohort, and how a new device compares to others before it. We can learn a lot from them. We just need to ask.
The ‘What’s Your Story?’ contest is a video contest with a twist. Each year, we ask a question that reflects a current
issue about life online and ask students across the US and Canada to answer it for a chance to win one of several prizes, including one of two $10,000 grand prizes. But it doesn’t just take video-making expertise to win. We encourage contestants to also be advocates of their own messages. We think they have great things to say, and through this contest, we encourage them to get their stories out to as many people as possible. To get into the finals, having a good answer matters, but so does getting lots of people to hear it.
This year, we decided to ask: “If you could change one thing about the internet, what would it be?”
To those of us who remember 5 inch floppy disks and dot matrix printers, the internet is still relatively young. But to 30% of the world’s population, the internet has always been there. Regardless of age, if you’re using the internet you’ve probably found it an indispensable part of your life. It’s the first place we turn to find an answer, be entertained, or connect with others. There’s a lot we love about the internet and can claim as a shared experience across generations and countries.
Over the past year, however, there appear to be some troubling trends happening online – whether it be the distribution and consumption of fake news, the prolific work of hackers, the abuse of comment sections on blogs, or the ever-invasive advertising that both fuels and disrupts our online experiences. There have always been reasons to love and hate the internet, but the contrasts seem sharper than ever before.
Facebook and Twitter are attempting to grasp their role and solve the issue of fake news on their platforms. Security companies like ours are fighting every day to keep all types of cybercriminals at bay. There is an increasing number of organized movements to support kindness online, such as the work of iCanHelp. Organizations like the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) and MediaSmarts are fighting hard to make media literacy education a national priority in both the US and Canada.
We are excited to be joined by these great organizations and many more to help us select the winners of this year’s contest.
If you are or know a student out there who wants to tell us how they might change the internet, don’t wait.
Students in K-12 schools in the US and Canada under the guidance of their teachers and parents, or individuals who are at least 13 and currently attending a K-12 school, college, university, or film school are eligible to compete. One school and one individual entry will each win a $10,000 grand prize with several more runner-up prizes to be awarded. The deadline to enter this year’s contest is April 11, 2017.
We’re looking for creative, insightful, thought-provoking answers to this year’s question and we’re hopeful that the youngest among us can deliver. If all the past years’ contests have proven anything, the world’s youngest citizens have a lot to say and will not disappoint. If you have an answer to our question, tell us. We are listening.
For more details on the contest rules and to view past winners for inspiration, visit whatsyourstory.trendmicro.com.