Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Online safety - whose responsibility is it?

Interesting post on Linda's blog (nod to Vicki Davis for the link) about online safety. Linda takes issue with the ruling of judge who declared that it is the parents' responsibility to teach their children online safety. At this point, I think I agree more with the judge.

Linda lists five groups of stakeholders who she says need to take ownership of and be held accountable for Internet safety:

  • Industry companies & organizations
  • Governments & regulators
  • Law enforcement & oversight boards
  • Individuals & families
  • Schools & other educational resources.
I agree that all these parties carry a responsibility. However, my view of the balance of responsibility is a little different. Linda likens the judge's ruling in this case as being on a par with holding parents responsible for the traffic deaths of their children, saying: "If someone hands a 14-year-old keys to a faulty car and says “go have fun” down a poorly maintained freeway that doesn’t warn of steep curves would society blame the parents for the ensuing crash?"

If the child had been properly educated by his parents and to a lesser extent, his community and his teachers, he would not take those keys, any more than he would have taken candy from a stranger as a pre-schooler. He would know it was both wrong and dangerous. He would have too much respect for his own safety, and for the safety of others to take such a risk.

While I support the concept of due care on the part of manufacturers, let's bear in mind that they are simply producing a product. The manufacturers of the car in the analogy above are not expected to shoulder responsibility when a child takes the wheel.

There is a worrying increase in reliance on regulations to protect our children and an abdication of parental responsibility. I have no desire to live in a society that is completely regulated "for my own good". Too Orwell, too Equilibrium.

One of the primary needs of every human being is safety/shelter. Sadly, we have lost much of the notion of community that existed in previous generations. However, a community of sorts still exists in the extended family and the school. Until I am convinced otherwise, I maintain that it is this community, most especially the parents, upon whom the onus rests to meet all a child's primary needs.

Linda makes the point that consumers have the right to be informed of the risks associated with any new product or feature. I agree. However, I would like to point out that many parents (and sadly many teachers) can't be bothered to make the effort to access the information that is available to them. For many of us, as long as the children are being quiet and aren't demanding our attention, we are content to let them get on with it. It is all too often only when the wheels fall off that parents sit up, take notice and look for someone to blame.

People like Vicki Davis expend an enormous amount of energy teaching children about netiquette and safety online. It is a tragedy that her efforts are so notable - they should be the norm.


Wesley Fryer said...

I appreciate you linking to Linda's post and this judge's ruling, and I concur with your assessement that we need a community-wide focus on Internet safety. I think the focus needs to go beyond just safety, however, to constructive and powerful uses of the Internet. I'll mention your post and these ideas in the next session I'm teaching at our church tomorrow night on Internet safety, that is part of a series we've titled Digital Dialog.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree that the focus needs to be wider than just safety - it just happened to be the subject of the post to which I was responding.

Good for you taking the matter up within your church - that tends to be one of the few remaining places where "community" still exists.