Web Users of the World Unite!

Stephen Balkam
February 7, 2017

When asked what he thought of Western Civilization, Mahatma Gandhi reportedly quipped, “I think it would be a good idea.” If he were alive today, I think Gandhi would also have thought that the Internet was more than just a good idea. No doubt he would have a large and dynamic social media presence.

His pithy quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world” would have been a perfect length for a tweet. And his admonition has inspired the theme for this year’s Safer Internet Day, being celebrated today in over 100 countries and on every continent.

Given the recent political upheavals in the US and in Europe, this is a particularly good time to remind ourselves and our children about the need to practice good digital citizenship online. To be an upstander and not a bystander if you see bullying or harassing messages or videos. To report rather than spread abusive, inappropriate or illegal images. And, for us adults, to be good digital role models in spite of the way some of our political leaders behave online.

In these uncertain and fractious times, let’s use the web to reach out, connect and share with others outside our comfort zone. We should show our children, teens and young people that we understand and follow the norms and behaviors that build and support community online.

At FOSI we developed the 7 Steps to Good Digital Parenting precisely to guide parents through the maze of issues and concerns that arise with the sometimes volatile mix of kids and digital technology. Parents of young children should use parental controls to filter out the worst of the web and monitoring and privacy settings for their older kids.

But by far the most effective tool is a regular conversation with your kids about the devices they use, where they go online, the content they access, the people they contact and how they conduct themselves online. And in those conversations, to convey your family values and instill in them a sense of what is right and wrong in both the physical as well as the digital world and to act accordingly.

Empower them to make wise decisions and to creatively explore the vast potential the web has to offer. I’m sure Gandhi would have agreed.

Written by

Stephen Balkam

For the past 30 years, Stephen Balkam has had a wide range of leadership roles in the nonprofit sector in the both the US and UK. He is currently the Founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), an international, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, DC. FOSI’s mission is to make the online world safer for kids and their families. FOSI convenes the top thinkers and practitioners in government, industry and the nonprofit sectors to collaborate and innovate and to create a “culture of responsibility” in the online world.

Prior to FOSI, Stephen was the Founder and CEO of the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA) and led a team which developed the world’s leading content labeling system on the web. While with ICRA, Stephen served on the US Child Online Protection Commission (COPA) in 2000 and was named one of the Top 50 UK Movers and Shakers, Internet Magazine, 2001.

In 1994, Stephen was named the first Executive Director of the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC) which created a unique self-labeling system for computer games and then, in 1996, Stephen launched RSACi – a forerunner to the ICRA website labeling system. For his efforts in online safety, Stephen was given the 1998 Carl Bertelsmann Prize in Gutersloh, Germany, for innovation and responsibility in the Information Society and was invited to the first and subsequent White House Internet Summits during the Clinton Administration.

Stephen’s other positions include the Executive Director of the National Stepfamily Association (UK); General Secretary of the Islington Voluntary Action Council; Executive Director of Camden Community Transport as well as management positions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (London) and Inter-Action. Stephen’s first job was with Burroughs Machines (now Unisys) and he had a spell working for West Nally Ltd – a sports sponsorship PR company.

Stephen received a BA, magna cum laude, in Psychology from University College, Cardiff, Wales in 1977. A native of Washington, DC, Stephen spent many years in the UK and is now has dual citizenship. He writes regularly for the Huffington Post, appears often on TV and has appeared on nationally syndicated TV and radio programs such as MSNBC, CNN, NPR and the BBC and has been interviewed by leading newspapers such as the Washington Post, New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, radio and in the mainstream press. He has given presentations and spoken in 15 countries on 4 continents.