It’s as if Schrodinger opened his famous box containing a cat that was both dead and alive to find that it is always dead no matter how many times the lid is lifted, a paradoxically certain and therefore absurd result.
The thought is worth raising in a week that contains both Safer Internet Day, 8 February, and Social Media Week in the same calendar space, a perfect opposition of competing theories of what the Internet does, or can do, to us.
In the words of its organisers, social media week “brings hundreds of thousands of people together every year through learning experiences that aim to advance our understanding of social media’s role in society.” To mark the week, Skype is even giving away free WiFi hotspot access to promote Internet telephony so it has some practical endorsement.
On the other side, the EU funded Safer Internet Day describes its mission as being “to promote safer and more responsible use of online technology and mobile phones, especially amongst children and young people across the world.”
Which is it to be? Social media, a great technological movement for complex and positive forms of communication or social media, or the world’s biggest platform for creating naive trust, especially among the young, which can then be exploited and abused by criminal elements?
I predict that both these events will be back next year, and the year after, and the year after that, and for the simple reason that the Internet’s innovators keep inventing new ways to use the Internet faster than people can adapt to securing the old ones.
They stopped old-world viruses with antivirus, to which has since been added new layers of enabling software, each with its own ‘anti’ to stop application threats, email incursion, attachment attacks, web defacement, and now social media criminality.
The possibility always precedes the exploit, which always precedes the solution, by which time a new set of possibilities have turned up.
The point is not to argue for or against any particular innovation but to grasp that they all bring risks and those risks are necessary. The Internet could be turned into a China-style mass observation system but I’m not sure it would really make the world safer in any fundamental way even if the need for ‘safer Internet’ days went away..
The real challenge of Internet safety should be the user, not the Internet, but who wants a world ruled by the worldly and cautious? They will never fall prey to the Net's worst excesses but then again, they would never have built it in the first place.
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