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East London Humanist chair Paul Kaufman feels open education is key in the fight against internet danger

PUBLISHED: 11:00 26 October 2016 | UPDATED: 11:00 26 October 2016

Archant

The internet has proved to be a "mixed blessing".

When it began around 30 years ago it seemed to herald a golden age. Information available at the click of a button; free sharing of wisdom and knowledge.

But it has also, for example, provided the tools for groups like Isis, wherever they are on the planet, to suck members of our community here in east London into their vile beliefs.

It is common for like-minded people to gravitate towards others who think the same way.

“Confirmation bias” is sometimes used to describe a self-reinforcing group mentality which eschews any other viewpoint. The web has made it far easier to prey on the vulnerable and for kindred spirits to find each other. Thus numerous strange virtual communities have sprung up: youngsters pre-occupied with self-harm or extreme dieting; believers in bizarre conspiracy theories. The web is as efficient at spreading false and harmful information as it is at sharing good information.

The internet has provided easy access to sexual imagery in a way that was unimaginable a few years ago. Generations grow up with distorted expectations and ideas about relationships and body image.

It is impossible to turn the clock back. The internet is part of the fabric of everyday life. Youngsters are now more likely to get their information about the world through social media than newspapers or TV.

So what can be done to ensure the next generation grows up with a balanced outlook?

Schools are a great opportunity to equip children with the intellectual tools needed to properly filter and assess the deluge of material at their fingertips. But are faith schools up to this very modern challenge? By their nature they promote a one-sided world view. They are less likely to teach children to weigh evidence and think for themselves. Typically their approach to sexual issues has been wanting.

It’s another reason for opposing Theresa May’s misguided push for more faith schools through academisation and religious selection. More from Paul

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