Young heroes in Bulgaria make the internet a better place

Safer Internet Day

by Mina Boneva
Mina Boteva conducting a "Safer Internet" Workshop in Sofia, Bulgaria
UNICEF Bulgaria/2019/Yotova

05 February 2019

Once upon a time, (on the second day of the second week of the second month of the year, to be precise), heroic children, young adults and adults came together. During the feast the Heroes came up with tactics for a new Campaign against the Dark Side of the Internet – a place where children were known to be in great danger.

The Campaign was so successful, that these Heroes decided to gather every year, and always on the second day of the second week of the second month. I personally can’t find an adequate explanation as to why they didn’t simply pick up a date, but it is what it is:

Safer internet day
UNICEF

This year’s Safer Internet Day was on the 5th of February and, once again, children and adults gathered all around the world. On one particular fete that took place in Bulgaria, a small kingdom in the ever so great European Alliance, a young Internet Hero named Mina, was hectically setting up the tables for the event.

Mina had been a member of the Youth Panel of the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) since 2015, but never had she come up with such an elaborate programme for Safer Internet Day. Part of the League of the Youth, the Youth Panel, warriors in the Great War against Hate, had prepared a campaign that would span the length and breadth of the country under the slogan: “You are the Hero”.

Since the dawn of the Internet, three races had been enemies: the Haters, the Victims and the Heroes. And none of them actually understood anything about each other. This year, Mina and her companions the - Youth Panel, had decided to help Bulgarian Heroes understand the agenda of all of the characters in this story of a Hate War: the Haters, the Victims and the Heroes themselves. Mina and her fellows wanted to prove that we can all be any of these, or even all three, and that the lines between these races are blurred.

As usual the event started with the Award Ceremony for the Cyber Scouts. Escorted by their educators, the Cyber Scouts were elite groups of child heroes, aged 10 to 13, that were taught the dangers of the Internet and trained to help schoolmates who are facing a cyber crisis, such as bullying. Basically, Children Heroes. The most prominent detachments were given special certificates by the Ministry of Interior for their work with their peers, recognising their tenacious labour to keep other children safe.

Mina asked everybody to take their places and explained the point of the programme:

“Hater, Victim, Hero. We all contain each one of those traits. Me and my fellows from the Panel wanted to show you just how similar we are.”

And so the quests began! 

First, you had to create your own character. Such marvelous pieces of craft had never been created before, yet all it took was crayons, some clothes and cardboard to create realistic friends.

Young heroes creating their own characters to role play online bullying and defense tips.
UNICEF Bulgaria/2019/Yotova
Young workshop participants creating their own characters to re-enact defense against online bullying.

Then, drawing on all of their heroism and strength, the Heroes had to read the Scroll of Hate Speech, compiled by Mina and her fellows, and choose to include or exclude the words of hate they used or heard most commonly. Suppressing their own urge to laugh, the children regained their composure and did what they were asked to, putting down the words: “Noob.”, “Idiot.” “Gay."

Who would have thought that our Heroic children are so well acquainted with this Hater terminology from lands far beyond our borders?

These words of hate were then stuck on to the vest of the cardboard fellow. Our marvelously crafted friends had now joined the race of Victims.

“We couldn’t have come up with all these words of hate unless we do have a Hater self,” said Mina. “We all do have it and should be aware of it. But now is the time to be a Hero. What would you do, now that your friend has been attacked?"

Children raising hands to participate in the "Protection" round of the workshop on Safer Internet Day, Sofia, Bulgaria.
UNICEF Bulgaria/2019/Yotova
Participants eager to practice defending each other form online bullying - 'Protection" round of the "Safer Internet" workshop, Sofia, Bulgaria.

If the first quest, on Hate, was productive, then the quest on Protection was mind-opening, with children rushing to defend their friends. “Hey, buddy, the way you behave is not beautiful at all.” “Why do you say that?” “Well I think both of you are brilliant.”

And in the third quest, the children had to wear these same vests and then defend themselves. It was unsettling for them to become Victims, but they found it easier to defend themselves once they had defended others. “Well I am heterosexual, but gay is not an insult anyway. Do you want to talk about what it means?” was a comeback to learn from!

Young heroes re-enacting tips on staying safe online, at a Safer Internet workshop in Sofia, Bulgaria.
UNICEF Bulgaria/2019/Yotova
Participants discussing how to tackle online abuse at the "Safer Internet" workshop in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Finally all the Heroes watched a video together: the product of hard work and perseverance by Mina and her fellows. A Hater brother had abandoned his little sister to spend time on the Internet, not realising that she was a Victim herself. The ending sign said “You are the hero”.

With this premiere the new Campaign against Hate was launched and Hate was finally defeated…

… unless it wasn’t.

I am Mina, 18 years old, I come from Bulgaria and I fight against online hate every day. I am a Hero.

Are you?

 

About the author

Mina is 18 years old. She studies at the German Language High School in Sofia. Mina is passionate about civic engagement and has been a UNICEF youth delegate to the European Parliament in Brussels during 2018’s World Children’s Day advocating for child rights. Her passions are music (the Arctic Monkeys) and art (managing an Instagram account dedicated to digital and watercolor paintings). She is an eco-activist and tries to live a plastic-free life.

About Safer Internet Day in Bulgaria

Safer Internet Day (SID) 2019 in Bulgaria was the starting point for many events around the country, featuring the nationwide “You are the Hero” campaign designed, to a large extent, by the SIC youth panel. The young panellists developed a story board emphasising the importance of positive behaviour online, as well as a video and a competition for young people to produce media content.

The Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) was created in 2005 and is coordinated by the non-governmental organization Applied Research and Communications Fund in partnership with Association Parents. SIC is recognised as the national hub of expertise on Internet safety for children and young people and was awarded a global plate for outstanding civil contribution to law enforcement in 2015. SIC is a traditional partner of UNICEF in Bulgaria, including collaborating on the topic of cyber bullying prevention and response, within an ongoing campaign to End violence at school.

 
In "Our Voices: Young people from across the region", we amplify young people’s voices through a series of articles, personal stories, blog posts and videos.  This is a platform for young people in the Region to shed light on their experiences and offer solutions to the challenges they face.  All views expressed here belong to the authors, and do not represent the views of UNICEF.