Together with 36 other young people from all over Europe, George participated in this year’s Safer Internet Forum on the 27th of October 2022.
The 2022 edition of the Safer Internet Forum was held in a different way than in previous years. To start with, this was the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that the event happened in person (even though there were online participants since it was a hybrid event). Apart from that, since 2022 is the European Year of Youth, the young people had a more active role in the organisation of the event than in any previous edition.
After receiving an invitation on the 18th of May 2022, to participate in the Safer Internet Forum (SiF) as a member of the SiF Youth Advisory Group (YAG), George immediately accepted. The SiF YAG consisted of 10 former participants of the BiK Youth Panel, who together with Insafe and BiK Youth Organisers, helped make the SIF a truly Youth-Led Forum.
The SiF YAG met regularly from May to October, where they help form the agenda for the SiF. They helped pick two speakers, Jacob Donegan (Irish Content Creator) and Lijana Risen (German Mindset Influencer) to speak during the SiF. They were chosen as both suffered from cyberbullying, yet managed to overcome it and inspire other people from all over the world to overcome their problems. The SiF YAG was also given the opportunity to pick what roles they wanted to have during the SiF. George, together with Molly were assigned interviewing High Ranking EU Officials. The SiF YAG also had the opportunity to select a small group of representatives (George was one of the 3 representatives) to present their ideas to representatives of the European Commission. After some discussions, between the YAG and the EC, the agenda for the SiF was finalised.About a month before the SiF, they started to ramp up their meetings, and amongst other stuff, everyone started meeting to plan their scripts for the SiF.
On the 25th of October, most of the Better Internet for Kids Youth Panel (BiK YP) and SiF YAG members arrived in Brussels and started working on the final preparations for the SiF immediately. George and the rest of the Maltese Delegation left MLA (Malta International Airport) at 07:56, and arrived in FCO (Rome Fiumicino Airport) at 9:06. From there, to catch their connecting flight they immediatley went to their next plane which left FCO (Rome Fiumicino Airport) at 10:33 and landed in BRU (Brussels International Airport) at 12:22. From there they went on the Airport Shuttle which took them to nhow Brussels Bloom Hotel, where they were staying, and the same venue in which the SiF was held.
After arriving, they went up to meet the BiK YP and SiF YAG members which already arrived. After months, and in some cases over a year of speaking to them online only, it was a surreal experience for every one of them to finally meet in person. After a lot of hugging, they sat down in a circle and started introducing themselves, and playing some ice breaker games to kill time. At around 14:38 they met in a conference room to have an icebreaker with everyone (incl the adults taking care of the group), discuss the song and performance which was going to be held by the BiK YP, and see the agenda for the upcoming day. After the meeting was finished, the BiK YP and SiF YAG members were given each a bag, badge and pronoun pins. They were also given chance to prepare their points to mention during the ‘Deep Dives sessions’, which were going to be 2 sessions of, and George was a firestarter in both. Once the group finished planning, everyone started checking into their rooms and their reaction was the same. Wow! The rooms were not just creative, but also comfortable and massive.
Once they finished unpacking and admiring their room, the BiK YP and SiF YAG members met in the lobby to walk to Wolf Food Market for dinner.They were given a prepaid card each and had an amazing dinner together. During this dinner, the groups really started becoming closer and the walk to and from the Food Market helped the groups to become amazingly close. At the end of the day, the groups that became really close met in Room 109 (better known as Molly’s Room) and had the time of their lives.
For their first (and in George’s case, only) full day in Brussels, they woke up early for breakfast. They met at 8:00. and had a delicious breakfast, which meant a perfect start to an amazing day. At around 9:00 they met for an introductory meeting to see what each member was going to do. After some planning, and some rehearsing the famous clap and the famous ‘With or without you’ line, they each went on their separate ways. George, together with the rest of the SiF YAG members met in a ‘meeting area’, coincidentally the same one where they met the day prior, and started rehearsing and finalising their speeches. They were also lucky enough to have a snack area right in their meeting area, which meant that breaks could be taken at any time, rather than sticking to the pre-determined agenda. At around 12:30 they stopped for lunch.
After lunch, rather than continue working, they met in the lobby once again. This time, to go Le Botanique park, to take some pictures, take some tiktoks and even relax a little. After that short break, they arrived back into the hotel at 14:00 and went back to working. This time, they went back into the groups they were dived into earlier in the day. However, now the real work started. They read their speeches out loud, and the rest of the SiF YAG members helped them fix any mistakes and spot any imperfections. Once this was finished, the final scripts were sent to printing and both the BiK YP and SiF YAG went downstairs to the venue where the SiF was going to take place in the following day, for the dress rehearsal and final preparations. They then went back to where they were planning, but this time to have some snacks, and socialise a bit. A short while after, some pizza arrived and everyone started eating their dinner.
After dinner, they went into their rooms to freshen up a little and relax. They then went back downstairs to have yet another rehearsal, this time aimed at ensuring the sound worked well and that everyone knew what they’ll be doing exactly. Once this finished, George and the rest of the group, which by now became really close went once again to room 109, where even though people left earlier since the SiF was happening the following day, the chaos and fun they had in that room was unbelievable and explainable.
Everyone, including George woke up early, partly because most had to check out early, and partly because everyone was excited for the day they’ve spent months planning for. After George packed everything in their suitcase, they said a final goodbye to their room and left for downstairs. They checked out of their room, left the luggage at the counter, and went for breakfast. After breakfast, they immediately went to registration for the SiF. After getting the lanyard with their name and table allocations, they were also given a reusable notebook and cleaning kit. Then they went in the venue, and made some last-minute preparations for the SiF. The SiF YAG also filmed a tiktok with their ‘leader’, Sabrina.
Once guests started arriving, George and Molly, together with June and Catharina went on stage, waiting for the event to start. Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market and Dubravka Šuica, Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, delivered a speech via a pre recorded video. The Panel between Young People and High-Level EU Officials began immediately after the two video messages. Both of the EU Officials offered perspectives which aligned quite closely with the young people’s, and agreed on quite a lot of things. From Regulating Industry to Youth Empowerment, the discussion was a fruitful and successful one.
After the High Level Opening Remarks, both Jacob and Lijana delivered a powerful speech each, about how cyberbullying affected them, but about how they found safe spaces online. After these wonderful speeches the part most people love about the SiF began. The BiK Performance started by clapping in a rhythm, and models with problems we all face online written on their shirts walking from the audience towards the stage. After this, a specially written song for the SiF was sung, with the theme revolving around the ‘With or Without You’ catchphrase. Once this finished, BiK YP and SiF YAG members stood up on their chairs, holding up a sign that said ‘With or Without You’ in different languages. This led to a discussion about the problems written on the model’s T-Shirts. George’s table discussed the impact of Cyberbullying and how it can be mitigated.
Following a short break, 2 ‘Deep Dive Sessions’ began. These deep dives had the idea of small tables discussing different topics, then sharing the results with the wider audience. For the first session, George’s table discussed the problems about solving Cyberbullying and how to tackle it before it even starts. For the second Deep Dive, they disucssed about Monitoring the Impact of the Digital Transformation on Well-being. They concluded that recommendation, not forcing kids would benefit both the kids, adults and researchers in the long run. After this they had a short break, and were awarded a small gift and given their certificate. They then went downstairs for the Closing Panel of the SiF 2022. After this session, they hugged goodbye to everyone they could, and almost cried about the fact that they’ll leave them and only meet them again maybe in the following year. However all good things must come to an end.
At around 20:21 they left BRU (Brussels International Airport) and landed in MLA (Malta International Airport) at 22:41. After a hectic 3 days, they were back to their everyday lives, however with a new perspective on online safety, a better friendship with the SiF YAG and BiK YP members and memories they’ll never forget.