The issue is tough, very tough. It is about the good, the bad and the ugly of the use - and misuse - that humans make of Internet.
On the one hand, users find quick answers from what you may call “Saint Google” or “Santa Wikipedia”.
On the other, Internet is being glowingly misused and abused for steeling private information, bullying, sexual exploitation and even human trafficking.
And the issue has just jumped to the news again now that the United Nations informs that every half a second, every day, a child goes online for the first time – tapping into all the great opportunities the Internet has to offer, but facing grave risks.
Who said this is nothing less than the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which on 6 February 2018 called for “urgent action to protect children from sexual exploitation, cyber-bullying and the misuse of their private information.”
The potential of connectivity makes it easier for children to connect with their peers anywhere in the world […it] is a tool for children’s empowerment and engagement with their communities, said on this Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Pacific Representative.
“However, this connectivity puts them at risk of their private information, access to harmful content, and cyber bullying,” he warned.
A Child, 1 in 3 Internet Users
As outlined in The State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a digital world Worldwide, one-in-three internet users is a child, and yet too little is done to protect them from digital world perils.
“Every day, thousands of children are going online for the first time, which opens them up to a flood of dangers we are just coming to appreciate, let alone address,” said Laurence Chandy, UNICEF Director of Data, Research and Policy.
Then he urged collective action –by governments, the private sector, children’s organisations, academia, families and children themselves– to level the digital playing field and ensure safer Internet spaces for children.
The report underscores that everyone is obliged to protect children in the digital world, including governments, families, schools and other institutions – “with a special note that technology and telecommunication industries have a significant responsibility to shape the impact of digital technology on children.”
“In the time it takes to click on a link, a child somewhere begins creating a digital trail which those not necessarily considering the child’s best interest can follow and potentially exploit,” Chandy stressed.
“As younger and younger children join the Internet, the need to have a serious discussion about how to keep them safe online and secure their digital footprint becomes increasingly urgent.”
For Children, Life Is Unimaginable without Internet
On this, the UN Children Fund provides the following information:
· Digital technology has transformed the world we live in – disrupting entire industries and changing the social landscape.
· Childhood is no exception. One in three Internet users worldwide is a child, and young people are now the most connected of all age groups.
· From photos posted online to medical records stored in the cloud, many children have a digital footprint before they can even walk or talk.
· Digital technology can be a game changer for disadvantaged children, offering them new opportunities to learn, socialise and make their voices heard – or it can be yet another dividing line. Millions of children are left out of an increasingly connected world.
· The online gender gap is growing: Globally there are 12 per cent more men than women online, and the gap is greatest in low-income countries.
· As digital technology rapidly evolves, so can the risks children face online – from cyber-bullying to misuse of their private information to online sexual abuse and exploitation.
The leading UN agency in charge of the lives and safety of children summarises its key message as follows: “While the Internet has opened up a world of exploration for children, it has also made it easier for bullies, sex offenders, traffickers and abusers to find them.”
The picture, as described above, is bleak.
And the point is that the technology business, which could - and should-- prevent all these risks, appears to be more powerful than governments, and it reportedly funds the electoral campaign of some politicians who are eager to seize power... at any cost, including the present and the future of their voters.