I have young nephews and peers whose dreary days fall whenever they have no data connection or subscription for their phones’ access to the web. They simply cannot live a minute without an Internet connection.
In the lives of many young people today, the use of the Internet has become very much pervasive. Statistics place the youthful class of citizens before a gadget connected to the Internet than any other age group. Having full time Internet connectivity makes young people more likely to harness the full advantage of the Internet and its resources just as it imperils them.
A youth before a computer can access a great deal of useful information about the positively changing global values in innovation and education, just as he/she is likely to access a great deal of trash, making them more susceptible to a myriad of social and health risks. These two incidents can equally stem from unregulated use of Internet resources.
In the past few years, the youth, armed with the Internet, have been a vanguard for behavioural influence and civic action. From the youth’s online posts and advocacy, several economies and establishments have received affirmative shocks jump-starting and later fine-tuning the modus operandi of their democratic institutions for transparent citizen-centred development.
In fear of its role in civic mobilisation, we have witnessed oppressive governments clamp down online media for fear of its effect to unregulated power.
Majority learning institutions have recognised that personal book-guided research is not sufficient to provide adequate information. The library book resources are being supplemented by online book resources.
The Internet also provides immense benefits in areas of cognitive, social, physical development and can be used to solicit interventions in national economic, political and social issues. This explains our support for a more affordable and accessible Internet space.
While the constructive effect of the Internet on the way communities conduct business is much revered, various research indicates a huge risk, which in the absence of regulation has turned our young communities into more adversarial than development-oriented citizens.
In Uganda, the recent debate has been centred on the rising cases of cyber harassment/bullying and sexual solicitation where young people are more interested in information which harms rather than foster their impact on community development.
With the help of government institutions, it is incumbent on us to find out which youth groups are more susceptible to risk stemming from free and open access to online media, why, and if possible, develop structured interventions to protect them. Most countries which we cite in defence of unlimited Internet access are actually keen on what content their young populations consume.
As a country, one important area we can explore is developing legislation which imposes strict penalties to publishers of mentally-degrading and socially noxious material.
Without impacting on the positive aspects of Internet use such as its potential for learning and enhancing social relations and delivering health and security interventions, we ought to regulate our national youth’s use of the Internet, especially in ways which can suppress the overlooking aspects of negative social change.
Ms Ebaju is the Youth Female MP