Monday, June 11, 2007

Don't get snared in this Net

In Internet-reliant age, parents should teach kids not to believe all they read.

WHEN I read about how Abdul Basheer Abdul Kader was seduced by websites advocating radical ideologies, I wondered if my children were also exposed to similar danger.

My husband and I believe the Internet is a powerful tool for education. Yet, it is a double-edged sword. Our children are trained to use the Net as a source of information.

If they are playing Scrabble, for example, they can refer to the Scrabble online dictionary to settle any disputes. They are also familiar with the website, where they can do everything from booking cinema tickets to ordering satay for a barbeque.

Recently, they discovered the joy of watching movies and listening to songs on YouTube. When my two-year-old son had scabies, his sisters did research online to find out how to handle the disease. When they went on a tour with their grandmother to Penang, my seven- and eight-year-olds uploaded photographs from the trip onto their blogs. Our family even posted a recipe online on how to make our favourite fruitcake.

As you can see, the Internet plays a prominent role in our family life. Thus, we have two broadband connections and six laptops in our household. But our children are not allowed to download any computer games or play any local network games.

They are not allowed to surf the Net in the privacy of their own bedroom. All computer activities are done in the public domain of the living-cum-studying area. But is this enough protection for our children, whose ages range from two to 18?

Because of their experience in getting real-time information from useful websites, they might develop the belief that everything that is published on websites is true.
.Perhaps this is what happened to Abdul Basheer, a bright young lawyer who studied at one of Singapore's top junior colleges and graduated from a local university. He could have used the Net to blog, exchange views and information, do research or collect information in his course of work as a lawyer. In the process, he could have made the critical assumption that everything that is published online is true — and allowed his worldview to be shaped by the radical discourse he looked up on the Internet.

Maybe he was brought up not to challenge, question or be sceptical about any reading material that was presented to him. He could have been trained to accept knowledge as something cast in stone and hence, did not find it necessary to check the reports' reliability, credibility or authority. In such an environment, it is not difficult to see why he was seduced.

I remember that when I was growing up in the '70s, I was presented with a set of comic books that disparaged a particular religion. I was upset — the arguments presented were logical and the pictures were well-drawn enough to create fear in my mind.

A nun then explained to me that not everything that is printed is true. She encouraged me to refer to other books to see if the views presented in the comics could stand up to scrutiny. I was glad she did not adopt a dogmatic attitude and demand that I accept her view based on faith alone.

The danger of self-radicalisation has become a source of worry for our society and no longer remains a concern for intelligence services alone. Radical ideas and extreme propaganda in cyberspace are here to stay. The only way to protect our society from this phenomenon is to develop a healthy sense of sceptism.

But who has the responsibility of ensuring our children are protected from self-radicalisation? It is easy to point the finger at schools and the education system, and demand they take on this role. However, a holistic approach has to be adopted. The family has a critical role to play in developing good values in children, while society must not be afraid to proclaim certain basic human values that transcend the different religions in Singapore.

Letter from Frances Ess First published in Today on 11.6.2007