The Internet as Wild West metaphor is one of the most overused clichés around.  But there’s a reason for that.  The Internet, especially in largely filter-less America, is a wide open space, a virtual playground of First Amendment activity.  This is a good thing, and the vibrancy of the Internet is good for consumers as well.  By offering so many choices, whether in the economic marketplace or the speech marketplace, the Internet has emerged as a robustly free place.

Of course, as with any society without watchmen lurking behind every corner, there are security downsides.  And while nobody wants to impose radical Chinese style firewalls or suppress communications on the ‘Net; it is undeniable that computer-killing viruses, network-slaying malware, cyberbullying, child predators, and a rogue’s gallery of e-criminals exist online.  

To respond, a coalition of business groups, nonprofits and the Federal government have banded together to promote the responsible use of the Internet for both children and adults.  It’s called “Stop. Think. Connect.”  (The allusion to “stop, look, and listen” is intentional.)  The message came together after a year of “member meetings, research, focus groups, opinion polling and industry and government collaboration.”

It’s pretty simple:

1. Stop: before clicking a link, chatting up a stranger, or downloading a video;
2. Think: “Is my antivirus software up to date?” “Is this a trustworthy source to give credit card information to?” “If this isn’t what it’s supposed to be, how will it affect my network?”;
3. Connect: when the pathway is clear.

Together, the Stop. Think. Connect. (STC) coalition is working to get this message out to the general public; so Internet safety becomes as ingrained in Americans as looking both ways before crossing the street.  Last week, the government unveiled the winners of a Public Service Announcement challenge aimed at promoting the message.  The winners, one from Microsoft, one from three Dakota State students, and one from a group called “Stop Internet Predators” discuss the effects of cyberbullying, the access strangers have to an unsecured wireless network, and up-to-date antivirus systems.

Today, according to a survey by the STC coalition, more Americans are worried about identity theft than about losing their health insurance or being fired.  According to the National Crime Prevention Council, slightly less than half of all teenagers experienced some form of cyberbullying…with higher rates among girls than boys.   And of course, most folks probably have experiences with computer viruses that could have been prevented by simply being smarter about how we accessed the Internet.

Advocacy and awareness won’t lock away the malware writers or end the cyberbullying, but it can help Americans from being willing pawns in their game.  And if we want to keep the wide open and free Internet, we would all do ourselves a favor by following the mantra of stop, think, and connect. 

To learn more about online saftey and how you can protect yourself, visit:


Zac Morgan currently attending George Mason University School of Law and is a blogger for the American Consumer Institute.