Education the key to online safety

Posted in Cyberbullying and Online Safety, Uncategorized by ginas876 on May 23, 2010

When Sydney teen Nona Belomesoff was murdered after meeting up with the person she first befriended on Facebook, the first reaction from police and parent groups was to either restrict access or teach them to be cybersmart.

Of course the latter makes sense, especially as kids and teens tend to let their guard down in the online space. Police said doing something as simple as keeping photos you post private, can ward off predators. A photo on a social networking site speaks volumes about the person who posts it.

In The Sydney Morning Herald article ‘Police warn teens about Facebook’, published on 20 May 2010, Detective Superintendent Peter Crawford explained why:

“It’s not just the issue of the photograph. If someone is prepared to put their photograph, then they are generally also putting a lot of other information about themselves on the internet.”

At the same time, Social Media Strategist, Laurel Papworth called for parents and schools to educate kids and teens about online safety rather than being quick to immediately ban or restrict access. Her view, which is also my view, is that there is value in being part of social networking and teaching kids and teens about both the positive and negative aspects. Simply taking the computer out of the kids’ rooms would enable parents to keep an eye on what they’re doing online and who they’re talking to.

This debate is interesting, particularly around the area of restriction. The Australian Government is trying to restrict access to what they deem ‘objectionable content’ from the Australian public, in a bid to keep people safe.

This begs the questions, is internet censorship the answer or is education?

If internet filtering is introduced in Australia, the Internet Service Providers will block – at the URL level, any site deemed to have child pornography and “other prohibited material” and enable content to be filtered by the user – eg parents can choose to restrict access to all RA content.

The issues with this, as highlighted in the working paper by Alana Maurushat and Renee Watt at the University of NSW is that there is no actual way the Australian Governement can guarantee that objectionable content is blocked.

For instance, ISPs  must block content  such as child pornography on the URL level which does not enable it to be blocked from sites  such as Bit Torrent, encrypted channels, chatrooms, MSN Instant Messaging and mobile phones. There’s also no guarantee that sites which would be of benefit to the Australian public such as Breast Cancer sites, won’t be accidentally blocked due to the content it may contain.

Maurushat’s and Watt’s recommendation in this instance is for Australia is, as Laurel Papworth stated above – to take computers out of kids’ rooms and bring them into the spaces where parents can keep an eye on them while also installing a personal filter. They also recommend that more research is conducted into cybercrime, particularly around prohibited materials and information security. A joint effort between parents and schools to educate kids and teens about online safety would be a far better way to keep them safe than attempting to filter content using technology that isn’t up to scratch and can’t guarantee safety anyway.


Browne, R. (2010) ‘Moving farewell for Facebook victim’, The Sydney Morning Herald. Accessed at

Kwek, G. (2010) ‘Facebook ban not the answer: strategist’, The Sydney Morning Herald. Accessed at

Maurushat, A., Watt, R. (2009) Clean Feed: Australia’s Internet Filtering Proposal, University of NSW, Faculty of Law Research Series.

Timson, L. (2010) ‘Police warn teens about Facebook’, AFP, The Sydney Morning Herald. Accessed at


One Response

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  1. lpapworth said, on May 23, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    This debate is so important to Australia – it lays the foundations for the future. Education or Censorship? A knowledgeable nation or a nanny state. Thanks 🙂

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