The mask of the internet
I had a conversation today about the dangers of the internet and why a lot of sites are frequently banned from access in some organisations. The concerns raised were about how easy it is for people to take what is written on websites at face value. Because it’s been published on web pages it must be true. It’s all very well encouraging us to access anything we need by a quick search on Google but people can be anyone they want to be in cyberspace, they said. Sites are blocked in case people get the wrong information. Even students in our schools and colleges are copying and pasting what they believe is valid into their course work and believing everything in blind faith.
It is true that anyone can pretend to be anyone with bogus qualifications and exagerated expertise. But has it increased or just become more visible? Can you believe everything you read in the newspapers? For centuries we have used tools to help us carry out tasks easier and quicker. Fire is dangerous, destructive and indiscriminate in its devastation but we learned to work with it, tame it, harness it and use it for our benefit. With inconsiderate behaviour it will rage out of control again.
Admittedly we have seen many examples of fraudulent acts using the power of the internet. You should see my junk folder – it’s full strangers offering me hundreds of thousands of pounds for just doing them a little monetary favour!. Did they appear all of a sudden because of the internet? No, they just used more traditional methods of delivery before. There were scam letters, chain letters, bogus ‘cowboy’ companies offering deals via flyers posted through your letterbox. The bad guys no longer wear black hats to help you recognise them quickly but there are clues if you look closely. Dastardly people will always be around – and they will always find new ways of continuing their dastardly deeds. Of course not everyone offeres misinformation on purpose it just may be inaccurate or biased. This doesn’t mean we should stop using the same tools, banning their use …. just in case! That’s like cutting our noses off to spite our faces. It’s like depriving ourselves of holidays in the sun in case we get burned.
Once upon a time, I worked in an NHS library. We taught junior doctors about critically appraising written journal articles because even though they appeared in reputable journals, it didn’t mean that the reports were as accurate as they seemed. The introduction of the internet meant we needed to educate users on heightened risks. We taught our medical staff not only to critically appraise official journal articles but also how to use the internet appropriatel, provided them with guidelines, a list of reputable sites and the dangers of pure acceptance.
What we need is a little education. We need to help our staff and learners use these tools safely and responsibly – help them learn and work smarter, more effectively and more efficiently. Instead of throwing your arms up in horror and banning these powerful tools, let’s educate and manage staff and watch your productivity grow and their engagement increase.