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Leaders in Paris to call for protecting children online

Sylvie Corbet
Associated Press

Paris — Some world leaders and internet giants are expected to issue a global call to better protect children online during a Paris summit gathering about 30 heads of state and government, including U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris, the French presidency said.

“Protecting our children and teenagers online means taking them away from inappropriate or dangerous content, from violence, hatred and pornography,” French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted. He called on states, organizations and companies to “make concrete commitments for 2022" on the occasion of the Paris Peace Forum.

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Vice President Kamala Harris before the ceremony marking the 103rd anniversary of Armistice Day, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021 in Paris.

The Elysee said about 450 participants are expected at the three-day summit that opens Thursday, while 15,000 others will attend online. The summit brings together world leaders, CEOs, NGOs and others to discuss global issues such as climate, the COVID-19 pandemic and the digital transition.

Macron is to chair a session about children’s rights in the presence of Youtube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Amazon senior vice president Russel Grandinetti.

The call aims at making “joint commitments” on how to make the internet safer for children, a French official said. It will mark a “starting point” on taking concrete action including enforcing parental control on digital tools, protecting children from inappropriate content and preventing cyber-stalking, prostitution and child pornography, the official said.

Macron, Harris, EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will also attend another panel on regulating the digital domain, along with Microsoft president Brad Smith.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki speaks during the Women in the World Summit at Lincoln Center in New York.

Children rights' advocates have for years urged internet giants to take action to better protect children.

Revelations last month from whistleblower Frances Haugen showing internal Facebook studies of the harm of Instagram on teenagers only intensified parent's concerns about the popular photo sharing app.

Nora Fraisse, head of a French association fighting school bullying, on Thursday praised “a key moment” because it puts “international pressure” on internet giants.

Fraisse founded “Marion La Main Tendue” ("Marion The Outstretched Hand") after her daughter, Marion, committed suicide at the age of 13 because she was being harassed at school.

“Those who are spreading hatred via their pipes hold some responsibility," she said about popular social media apps like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. Cyberbullying and bullying at school are often interconnected.

Fraisse said social media companies should request a proof of identity as a first step and have better control over published content.

Social media companies have generally banned kids under 13 from signing up for their services, although it’s been widely documented that kids sign up anyway, either with or without their parents’ permission.

Fraisse, who speaks in schools about online risks, also called for better educating children and parents on these issues.

She cited a nationwide study her association commissioned this year that showed the proportion of those who attempted suicide is higher among children bullied at school (12%) than in the general population (7%).