How Safe Is The Cyberspace?

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Ibitroko Lemuel is a

            14-year old secondary school student in Port Harcourt. He is very addicted to the cybercafé. The only time he may not be found at the cybercafé is when he is at school. His mother, Mrs. Ethel Lemuel, a public servant, is disturbed by her son’s frequent visits to the cybercafé. According to her, “my son’s frequent visit to the cybercafé worries me. He is always found there and does not care about his books”. Instead of reading his books or perhaps watching television at home, Ibitroko has found a home at the cybercafé.

His frequent visits to the café has had negative effect on his performance at school because he scarcely finds time for his studies. His studies are not the only things affected by his commonplace visits to the internet centre. His family life is affected as well. When other members of the family converge at the dinning table for a tete-a-tete, Ibitroko is hardly found there. “For this reason,” says Mrs. Lemuel, “I have to secure for him, a vacation job whenever he is on holidays to reduce his visits to the cybercafé as well as make him focus on his studies.”

Cybercafé is a restaurant where one can pay to use the internet. They can both serve as centres for accessing the internet or places where food and drinks can be served. The web is a limitless library that can take one round the world with the information it contains. It has limitless sites to visit and offers veritable ways of time wasting. The internet is like the physical world where one meets people of all shades. Business transactions can be held even in conditions of secrecy. There could be incidents of fraud on the internet. And one could be duped online financially just in the same way one could be defrauded physically. Many teenagers and adults have fallen victims to ‘419’ fraudsters in the course of online trading.

It is believed that more teenagers visit cybercafé than adults. Indeed there is a huge spectrum of teens online. Mrs. Ada George, a head teacher at a private school in Port Harcourt says: “Many students have become so addicted to cybercafé that they no longer know what the school environment is like after holidays. Because of long absence from studies, some of the students forget to write in the regular form. They now write in unacceptable forms which they refer to as short cuts.”

As the heaviest users of cybercafé in the country, teenagers live and breathe online. They sneak to check the internet at odd times and browse every website that is available or imaginable. They are usually the first to discover new websites and the latest trends and gadgets. According to Mrs. George, an affective way to keep the teenagers away from the cybercafé is to have them busy or occupied. “I made my son start a holiday job, he felt as if the worst punishment had been given to him, which was to avoid the cybercafé,” says Mrs. George.

The primary thing teenagers do at the cybercafé is to visit several networks and discovering new sites. All they do is chat, share and network with friends. They are usually the first to discover any change on the various social networks. When The Tide spoke with a senior secondary one student on his interest in the cybercafé, he said: “I enjoy going to the cybercafé when I am on vacation. It keeps me from thinking of school for a while. It also enables me to connect with my friends who are not around. The internet helps me to access the world in a short time.”                    Continuing, the SSS One student said the reason some students communicate in wrongly spelt words or abbreviations is that it is the mode of communication on the internet. The mode is used to ensure that one saves time as well as being fast to meet up with the time paid for.

Another student of a private secondary school in Port Harcourt, Adango Harold, says: “My parents always warn me against visiting the cybercafé alone. If I have an assignment that requires visiting the cybercafé, I am usually accompanied by a member of the family and when I am through we leave the café together.”

Many parents for fear that their children might be corrupted if given unlimited access to the internet, restrict them. Others restrict them for the fear that they might be misguided by people and get arrested as most cybercafés have security operatives visiting and arresting some of the teenagers found there. Some parents even go as far as disconnecting their  internet access when leaving home, particularly when the children are on holidays.

Mrs. A. Hart, a mother of five says: “I check what my children can browse on the internet, so when I am not at  home, they cannot browse. I pity parents who do not have the access at home because they make use of the cybercafés and it is not a safe place for kids in Nigeria now.”

Some cybercafés put restrictive measures on websites that can be visited, while others do not. At a cybercafé at 210 Bende Street, an attendant spoke with The Tide and said: “We check what each person browses whether adults or kids. Those who browse in this café are restricted from visiting websites on pornography.” On whether security agents visit his cybercafé, he said: “Sometimes they do but not always. When they visit they do not disclose their identity but we know from the manner of their conduct.

Cybercafés should be made a safe place for teenagers. Where necessary there should be a restriction on what age could visit internet browsing centres and what site could be opened. These precautions are important because at the moment, cybercafés in the country are not safe places for teenagers and young adults. The truth is that young people may not be restricted  from visiting the cybercafé all the time but restricted sites can be blocked.