The balancing act: safety online versus accessibility

With the pervasiveness of the Internet, and all of its attendant dangers, it is crucial that we are safe online. Here, we discuss the balancing act we all required to do in that regard.

Yesterday, 7 February, the world commemorated Safer Internet Day (SID): to recognise the importance of being safe online, and to encourage us, users, to inculcate good practices as we use this increasingly essential platform. As noted in the press release issued for SID 2017, the main focus of SID initiatives is children and young people, who tend to be the most vulnerable to the negatives that can be experienced on the Internet, such as cyberbullying, cyberstalking, inappropriate material, and even hacking.

To a considerable degree and in order to be safe, users, and especially children, are encouraged to be more guarded in the amount of information they share – both consciously, for example,  in posts and updates on our social networks, and unconsciously, such as by permitting our networks to automatically include our location with our updates. Similar to the physical world, in which a broad range of dangers abound, the same exists in cyberspace, thus necessitating more prudent behaviour.

Having said this, it must be emphasised that the Internet as we know it today depends, to a considerable degree, on its users, being open – from the cookies we must accept on certain websites that in turn track our behaviour both on their site and as we surf online, to the social network ecosystem of which so many of us are a part. Moreover, all of this openness is driving the need for even more content and data, to inform both personal, and corporate, decisions, and to generate revenue in a variety of ways.

Thus, it should not be surprising that among children and youth, Internet use is not only high, but they are also exposed to both the positive and negative aspects of the medium. Recent research by UK Safer Internet Centre highlighted the following:

  • The majority of children (84%) aged 8-17 have shared a photo online, with 1 in 6 doing so in the last hour
  • 4 in 5 young people have been inspired by an online image or video to take positive action
  • But more than 1 in 5 have been bullied with images or videos online and 70% have seen images and videos not suitable for their age

Further, there has been a growing concern among educators and child development specialists about the impact of those experiences on impressionable minds. The exposure to images – both positive and negative – is rife and to a considerable degree, is being reinforced by mainstream media.

Being of this world, but not of it

Hence, although we are acutely aware of many of the negatives associated with being online, for most of us, it might be near to impossible for us (and our children) to avoid the medium completely. It therefore means that a balance between being safe, whilst being able to avail ourselves of the benefits of the Internet, must be struck.

Many of us are aware of the practices we, as adults, should adopt, and those we, as carers of children, should be implementing. However, we must also recognise that the Internet fosters a false sense of security: that discussions are private; that everyone you interact with is your friend; that all connections are secure; etc. In that regard, a healthy degree of skepticism and caution is advised in order to balance our safety online, with the ability to be able to do all that we need to do whilst there.


Image credit:  photostock (