Wednesday, February 22, 2006

“Danger, Will Robinson!” – media IT scaremongering and what we did in Sweden to fight it

Online danger zone - Chat-room predators are only one menace: Cyberspace presents an array of risks that may be hazardous to your child's well-being Vicki Haddock, San Francisco Chronicle, 02/12/06
The Internet once was seen as a golden ‘information superhighway’ transporting the next generation to the Promised Land. Now it may feel more like a minefield -- seductive on the surface, but seeded with subterranean hazards. Few families have escaped the...

It’s interesting how tangible the global world has became with the Internet. San Francisco Chronicle today covers exactly the same topics as Swedish media did a year ago.

During winter 2004-2005 the debate on the “dangers and threats of Internet” culminated in Swedish media. The coverage consisted of uncritical articles about restricting development and controlling access to new technology, mostly spin from special interests and single-issue groups that pursue different Internet safety and security policies.

OK. I agree. Internet is a youth centre without leaders or simply a graffiti board. It became evident that Internet safety and security had to be addressed. Microsoft in Sweden took the initiative and contacted several Swedish actors to form an innovation program to balance the media coverage. The aim was to “empower citizens to use the Internet, as well as other information and communication technologies, safely and effectively.” The goal was also to promote a positive, ethical use of online information and communication technologies. The program was set to involve government, educators, parents, media, industry and all other relevant actors. And I was assigned as project leader, working as senior consultant at Microsoft’s communication agency GCI.

First we decided to separate security from safety, as security is a technical issue and the safety not. Microsoft also decided not to address intellectual property ownership and use in any public campaign. The subjects have to be tackled from fundamentally different perspectives.

The security campaign was coined “Surfa Lugnt” (Safe surfing) and focuses on traditional technical user security areas such as virus, spam and infringement.

The safety campaign was a bit harder. Ethical issues cannot be taught as a subject like history or math. It can only be taught by your own reflection and understanding through “ethical dilemma discussions”, scenarios, role-playing or similar.

Together with the Swedish Media Council, The Swedish National Agency for School Improvement and publishing house Gleerups Utbildning AB (second largest educational publisher in Sweden), we developed the teaching aid “Livstid” (“For Life”). It promotes safe use of Internet, especially among children and young people. The aim is to reduce ‘risk’ behavior and promote responsible Internet users. Livstid focus on how to determine and handle inaccurate information, harmful material, intrusive advertising and online harassment, while at the same time emphasizing the positive aspects of Internet use among young people. The object is also to empower parents, educators and the Internet industry to help the children reach this goal.

You have to address many cultural issues in discussions regarding Internet safety. All groups in society have their own preferred styles and strategies for dealing with and managing ethical issues. There are large regional differences in attitude within a country. For example, the request “Be civil!” have one meaning in the countryside and another in a suburb with a large number of immigrants; Pornography have one definition in Sweden and another in Ireland, etc.

The Livstid teaching aid addresses:

  • Netiquette – “Citizenship online”. How to contribute to the online community positively and appropriately. How to recognize and react to inappropriate behavior like bullying. How to protect oneself from different types of threats from persons that use the Internet to engage potential victims and how to respond.
  • Integrity – “Personal safety online”. How to protect and manage personal identity online, including display of private information (as opposed to expressing personal opinions and views) on forums, blogs, chat rooms, etc.
  • Criticism of the sources – The National Agency for Education has expressed the importance of criticism of the sources, printed as well as electronic. “Check the Source” is a special program within The Swedish Schoolnet that started in 1994 intended to be an aid for teaching children how to search for and evaluate webpages and other sources of information.

The Livstid project has become one of the most successful projects ever for Microsoft Sverige and the most successful teaching aid ever for Gleerups Utbildning AB. The first edition of 30 000 copies was sold-out in only three months. A reprint is underway. Gleerups is talking about 200 000 copies.

Livstid has also been adapted by the Uppsala university, Dep of Teacher Training.

The material is also available for free download at (Only in Swedish.)


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