AI for Good blog

Empowering the Digital Generation: Bridging the Gap in Online Protection

Artificial Intelligence | Culture | Education | Ethics | Justice & Strong Institutions | Safety

In today’s digital age, the Internet has become a lifeline, especially for children and young people facing violence, both online and offline. They navigate a complex digital landscape, seeking help, connecting with helplines, and creating innovative solutions on various online platforms. However, the functioning of these systems – increasingly powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) – remains shrouded in mystery, highlighting a crucial gap in our understanding.

While much emphasis has been placed on understanding the risks children face online, we often overlook the other side of the coin: the Internet as a sanctuary, a place where children can access safety and support. In times of lockdown and isolation, the Internet becomes a vital resource, potentially the only means through which children can seek protection. Yet, the digital divide poses a significant challenge, as access to the Internet often determines a child’s ability to access protection services.

Unlocking Safety Online: The Role of Digital Platforms Powered by AI

Imagine a world where every child, regardless of their background, can access online protection systems seamlessly. That’s the vision of Protection through Online Participation (PoP), a pioneering initiative striving to make this vision a reality. PoP envisions a world where children and young people can safely access support and referral systems online, empowering them to receive assistance from peers or official services. 

Now that AI tools and technologies are embedded into online experiences, there is a new and pressing challenge to understand their use. In the latest research project just launched, PoP is asking for inputs into the: POP Survey for AI driven systems. 

Led by United Nations Agencies, PoP collaborates with over 30 global partners, including private sector companies, academia, civil society organizations, and youth themselves. This collaborative effort aims to explore how online protection systems function and provide recommendations on their implementation and enhancement. 

Children Leading the Way: Stories of Innovation

Children are actively utilizing online platforms to report violence, connect with helplines, receive counseling, and create solutions for their peers in need. One inspiring example comes from a Polish adolescent girl who, alarmed by rising domestic violence during the lockdown, established a fake online shop. Victims could discreetly seek help by placing orders for products, each order acting as a coded cry for assistance. This innovative approach illustrates the power of digital platforms in safeguarding vulnerable individuals.

How PoP Is Making a Difference 

PoP’s approach is multifaceted and ambitious: 

  1. Data Collection: PoP conducts quantitative surveys and qualitative research, gathering insights from official help services, young individuals, industry platforms, and AI-driven systems.
  2. Collaboration and Learning: In-depth interviews with children, youth, and industry experts are conducted, complemented by insights from child helplines. PoP brings together diverse perspectives, including the private sector, UN agencies, civil society organizations, and policymakers.
  3. Digital Mapping: All gathered evidence is compiled into a digital map, providing accessible insights into online protection systems worldwide.
  4. Recommendations: PoP publishes a comprehensive report with recommendations for improving and implementing these services. The report addresses key stakeholders, including the ICT industry, governments, service providers, UN agencies, civil society organizations, and, most importantly, children and youth. 

Join the PoP Movement: Your Voice Matters! 

Are you part of an official help service? Are you a young person who has used online platforms for support? Are you from the ICT industry or an AI-driven system platform? Your experiences and insights are invaluable. By completing the respective survey, you contribute to shaping a safer online world for children and youth everywhere. 

Let’s bridge the gap together! Join the PoP initiative and be a catalyst for change. Your voice can transform digital platforms from mere tools into lifelines, ensuring that every child, regardless of their circumstances, can access the safety and protection they deserve. 

Together, we can empower the digital generation and create a safer, more inclusive online environment for all. 

Child Protection Specialist
International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

For official help services click here. 

Complete the survey on child and youth-led solutions here.  

Complete the survey for the ICT industry here.  

Complete the survey on AI-driven systems here. 

 Join the conversation on social media using #PoPInitiative and #ChildOnlineSafety. 

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