Digital safety is at a crossroads – here’s how we navigate online threats globally
Project Lead, Global Coalition for Digital Safety, World Economic Forum
- As online threats become more diverse and complex and as we enter a huge election year, the urgency to ensure a safe online environment has never been greater.
- Safer Internet Day takes place in February of each year to raise awareness about the importance of building safer online ecosystems for everyone.
- The World Economic Forum’s Global Coalition for Digital Safety is a multi-stakeholder initiative that fosters global collaboration for enhanced digital safety.
A recent survey conducted by Microsoft has brought to light a disturbing revelation: a staggering 69% of the 16,000 respondents across 16 countries encountered online risks within the past year. This alarming statistic underscores the pervasive nature of digital threats, including misinformation, disinformation, cyberbullying, hate speech and threats of violence, underscoring the pressing need to confront these global challenges.
As Safer Internet Day passes on 6 February 2024, we must collectively address online harms and acknowledge how trust and safety will be undermined this year. As such, the Global Coalition for Digital Safety has been working towards tangible outcomes to elevate digital safety standards in the face of an ever-evolving digital landscape.
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Online safety in 2024
This year, there has been a greater sense of urgency when creating a secure digital environment with more foundational regulations.
Legislation, such as the United Kingdom’s Online Safety Act and the European Digital Safety Act, that have imposed more robust risk assessments and emphasis on transparency, is coming into effect. Similar regulations are underway in Canada, the United States and South Africa, signifying a global push towards enhanced online safety frameworks.
At a United States Senate hearing last week, CEOs of major social media platforms faced scrutiny over alleged shortcomings related to the safety of children and young people on their platforms. The hearing ignited calls for increased regulation and implementing “reasonable measures” to protect children online.
In this context, the trust and safety industry is expanding, including the surge in investment in safety tech. According to a recent report from Public, between 2021 and 2023, investments in safety tech tripled compared with the previous decade, reaching a staggering $4.8 billion. This industry, focused on protecting users, is becoming a crucial player complementing cybersecurity.
Disinformation and misinformation also stand out as significant challenges this year, recognized by the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk 2024 reportas the most severe global risks for the next two years, when national elections are occurring in 64 countries.
Technology developments, such as artificial intelligence (AI), including generative AI (GenAI), also constitute challenges to online safety in the form of deepfakes, for instance. However, they can also be used to detect such harms, including through advancing content moderation and mitigation techniques.
The Global Coalition for Digital Safety
In this dual context of challenges and opportunities, coordination, common frameworks and best practices are paramount to ensure a cohesive approach to safety and foster trust globally in digital spaces. The Forum’s Global Coalition for Digital Safety is committed to enhancing digital safety worldwide.
This multi-stakeholder coalition brings together over 40 members, including tech giants such as Meta, Amazon, TikTok and Google; eSafety company Activefence; the Digital Trust & Safety Partnerships; the governments of Belgium and Singapore; regulators in the United Kingdom and Australia; universities such as Oxford and Stanford; and UN agencies, such as its International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT).
To address the many complexities of digital safety, the coalition has developed a comprehensive toolkit of reports and tools designed in collaboration with all stakeholders, which build upon and supplement each other. The outputs are to help policymakers, industry leaders, civil society organizations, researchers, and individuals address harmful online content in a rights-compliant way.
In an interconnected world, our shared commitment to fostering a digital environment that is safe, respectful and enriching requires a heightened sense of responsibility
— Agustina Callegari, Project Lead, Global Coalition for Digital Safety, World Economic Forum
Our initial focus has been developing the Global Principles on Digital Safetyto foster commitment across sectors, empowering stakeholders to implement practical strategies for enhancing digital safety within their organizations and communities. The principles also serve as a compass for the coalition towards solutions to some of the most pressing digital safety challenges.
One challenge that has been recognized is the need for standardized language to address online harms. The coalition has responded by formulating the Typology of Online Harms to align perspectives universally.
The coalition also considers how the digital safety ecosystem is developing and different stakeholder needs, which the Risk Assessment Frameworkaims to address in light of emerging regulations. The proposed framework draws on existing human rights principles, enterprise risk management best practices and evolving regulatory requirements to identify what factors should feed into any mapping of digital safety risks. In addition, recognizing the importance of creating real-world change, it provides various case studies and actual experiences in risk frameworks.
Through these outputs, the coalition has harmonized various perspectives, enhancing how companies, governments and civil society organizations comprehend and navigate digital safety risks.
The 2024 agenda
The coalition has committed to creating tangible change in addressing the complex arena of digital safety through a systematic methodology informed by lived experience and case studies.
The coalition has four focus areas for 2024:
- Measuring digital safety: We are working to define how to measure digital safety better to track the real impact of the efforts and actions of stakeholders. While there is a recognized challenge in measuring safety, the coalition aims to identify these challenges and provide a classification to think about metrics and measurements for online safety. This work complements the Risk Assessment Framework and can be used in the context of present and emerging regulations.
- Digital safety effective interventions: Preparing a map of effective interventions for digital safety, drawing on safety-by-design principles and best practices to help companies identify and reduce digital risks that can be effective in the real world. These interventions will span technical, educational, policy and behavioural strategies.
- Thinking about future harms: As online threats and emerging technologies evolve, a forward-thinking approach is necessary to foresee future harms via a strategic roadmap with innovative approaches ready to address them.
- Media information literacy to tackle disinformation: We are exploring how media information literacy can address disinformation via a whole-of-society approach. Countering false information is a responsibility that falls on all sectors of society, not just individuals, platforms or regulators. This focus area also aims to add to the discourse around disinformation in the context of the 2024 elections worldwide.
At the same time, the coalition will continue raising global awareness of digital safety, contributing to international discussions and facilitating the exchange of ideas and information to increase trust and safety online.
Join our global efforts
Join the coalition in our collective mission for a safer digital landscape. As we invite organizations and industry leaders to contribute to this vital cause, we must recognize the greater responsibility we all bear. In an interconnected world, our shared commitment to fostering a digital environment that is safe, respectful and enriching requires a heightened sense of responsibility.
Safer Internet Day has served as a moment of reflection and a resounding call to action, urging us all to actively participate in shaping a digital world that prioritizes safety for every user. Together, let’s make a tangible difference and champion the values of a trustworthy, secure and inclusive online space.