Building Digital Resilience in Society: Are We There Yet?

17/11/2021 05:24 PM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.
By :
Professor Dr Noor Ismawati Jaafar

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many facets of the society, especially in terms of being innovative for sustaining its livelihood. Innovative behaviour is needed to battle the challenges that the pandemic has brought into the daily activities of individuals, both in personal or organisational settings.

We have been forced to adjust our normal practices using digital technologies and trained to become resilient in our lives. A society that embraces digital resilience would be able to adapt to any crisis situation and, thus, become more sustainable and stronger.

In general, when we talk about resilience, it is the ability to recover from setbacks or a capability to return to the centre. Resilience involves thoroughly assessing, acknowledging, and choosing. Digital resilience in specific is the ability to bounce back from difficult times online over time. It involves having the ability to understand when you are at risk online, knowing what to do if anything ever goes wrong, learning from your experiences of being online, and being able to recover from any difficulties or upsets.

In building resilience, intentional and consistent efforts must be pursued. These efforts need to be focused on four components of digital resilience:

1.Awareness – A person understands the potential risk online. Being online would require a person to fully being aware of the risk that may await them when clicking or navigating the Internet using computing gadgets. A person would be more cautious in their conduct online if he/she is aware of the potential consequences. This could be done through an online community promoting safer Internet use or the distribution of awareness information targeting individuals in the society or teaching Internet safety as a subject to manage the risk.

2.Instrumental actions – A person can prevent and respond to risk through the use of digital skills and media literacies. These require a person to act upon the potential risk through their learned level of digital skills which are acquired through experience. These instrumental actions will be a weapon in combatting the risk of being exposed to harmful acts online.

3.Cognitive actions – A person safely and critically engages with online content, and adopts problem-solving and decision-making skills when facing online risk. The use of decision-making skills requires a person to personalise his/her ability to classify their options to solve problems while being online.

4.Communicative actions – A person is willing to communicate with people when faced with a risky, upsetting or potentially dangerous situation online. This component requires a person to be more open in solving the online problem where opinions of others are sought and cooperation is extended to the online communities.

Information technology plays a role in building a digital-resilient society. For example, software programmes which filter out certain sites from web searches and block specific applications, websites or content can be a deterrent strategy. These programmes can also be used to verify the age of users of mobile Internet sites and control the amount of time a person spends online. However, users should remember to strike the right balance between harm prevention and one’s right to privacy.

While it might be tempting to focus narrowly on risk reduction through technology or legislation, building resilience among people in the society will ultimately be the more powerful strategy. This requires helping them to either learn how to avoid harmful online encounters or seek help when they do. They would be able to recover more quickly or go back to where they began after coming across dangerous or inappropriate online content.

The government plays a role here, too. As well as providing leadership and visibility for these issues, government agencies are trusted institutions and, therefore, are able to help when it comes to the reporting of incidents and concerns. They can also support online safety initiatives both by publicly encouraging and recognising them but also setting aside resources, namely financial and human, to accelerate their development.

In addition, governments must also establish legal frameworks that are technologically neutral but clearly delineating the boundary of criminal acts, whether they are conducted online or offline. Governments can also provide the resources and develop the capabilities needed to prosecute offenders.

To effectively build resilience and mitigate online risk, support is needed from a wide variety of stakeholders, along with government support, industry collaboration and self-regulation. As with so many of the dangers facing society today, no one actor can reduce the risks. All members of the society must bring to bear their capabilities and strengths in reducing the potential for harmful online activities.

When it comes to support online services, civil society groups and content or service providers need to collaborate to provide helplines and online communities to which individuals can turn to for assistance and guidance in fighting the risks, thus becoming digital-resilient. But the most intriguing question is, as a matter of fact, are we there yet?


Dr Noor Ismawati Jaafar is a Professor at the Department of Management, Faculty of Business and Economics, Universiti Malaya.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)