At the end of 2016, approximately 1.86 billion individuals were active on Facebook on a monthly basis. Undeniably, platforms such as Facebook have completely revolutionised the way in which communities worldwide interact. Malta is contributing to this new reality, in fact, latest statistics published by the European Commission has confirmed that Malta ranks in at second place across all EU countries in terms of the number of internet users that engage is social media activity.
The rise of social media has sparked numerous discussions on the impact it is having on personal and social relationships. Regardless of the potential negative perceptions, one cannot ignore the opportunities offered through the positive use of social media tools.
On this note, Facebook has undertaken various initiatives to exploit its unique position of having such an extensive and complex networked community. Facebook has been very active in the field of missing children through initiatives such as Child Rescue Alert and Amber Alert – recently launched in Malta. Most recently Facebook has launched suicide prevention tools, which exploit the intricacies of friends in order to connect a person in distress with people who can support them. These, and other initiatives, are undertaken as part of Facebook's drive to help build a safe community both online and offline.
“We believe safety is a conversation and a shared responsibility among all of us. This is why we provide tools that help you stay safe while using Facebook, we want to educate people on Facebook and encourage them to use our safety features” said Laura Bononcini, Head of Public Policy for Italy, Greece and Malta.
In fact, it is this drive that connected the BeSmartOnline! project, which is implemented by the Malta Communications Authority, the Foundation for Social Welfare Services and the Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education, with Facebook, through the latter’s work on online child safety. BeSmartOnline! and Facebook teamed up on a two-day programme during which they addressed children, youths and educators on various safety aspects in social networking.
On the first day, representatives from Facebook’s safety team and BeSmartOnline! visited students at St. Michael’s Church School, Higher Secondary in Naxxar and the Youth Café group in Cottonera, which is managed by Aġenzija Żgħażagħ. Youths aged between 13 and 17 were given tips on how they should behave online in order to have a positive experience on Facebook and Instagram. A number of resources were distributed, including a booklet specifically designed and developed by Facebook, which was also translated to Maltese.
The second day was dedicated to educators, with over 140 participants from various schools across Malta and Gozo participating in the event, the vast majority of which were Heads of various Departments and Educational Officers of a number of academic subjects. BeSmartOnline! and the Ministry of Education fully recognise that digital literacy is a cross-curricular subject and hence requires the active participation and a holistic approach from all sectors of the educational system.
Educators were given an explanation of the measures Facebook takes to contribute to the well-being of youth. Educators were introduced to Facebook's internal mechanism that deals with reports received and the difficulties and restrictions they encounter; the difficulties brought about by the complex nature of some of the reports received, either by ethical and/or legislative restrictions; and the sheer number of reports and data exchanged. Educators were also given a thorough explanation of the resources Facebook produce specifically for educators and how these can be adapted in schools.
Mark Spiteri, Senior Project Coordinator responsible for the BeSmartOnline! project stated that "In the 6 years that the BeSmartOnline! project has been running, the relationship fostered with Facebook has gone from strength to strength, particularly in terms of the Helpline, which is managed by the Foundation for Social Welfare Services. This recent collaboration has further strengthened this relationship as a result of the collective drive to raise awareness and educate users.’
‘As part of our role in a wider European Network, we keep putting pressure on the various social media platforms to take active measures in safeguarding the most vulnerable whilst using their services. However, we also appreciate the difficulties in managing such a complex community. We strongly believe that this relationship may serve as a cornerstone for us to increase awareness on the safe use of social media, and learn how we can also play our part and assist in making social media communities, like that of Facebook and Instagram a safer and more enjoyable place for everyone,’ continued Mark Spiteri.
Follow BeSmartOnline! on facebook.com/saferinternet.mt