Why can't I access stuff on the web?

Support for your business case
Published in Reports on 13 Aug 2013

Why am I not allowed to:

  • Watch video?
  • Listen to audio?
  • Add buttons to my browser?
  • Choose the web browser I want to use?
  • Manage my own web access?

Doing these things is just the natural evolution of the web. They aren't add-ons. They are part and parcel of using the web for learning, and for finding, managing, sharing and using information.

Blocking access to web-based tools and services inhibits digital participation and thwarts the acquisition of digital literacy skills, both of which are fundamental elements of the Scottish Government's digital strategy.

In practice this means allowing the workforce much greater freedom to use social media in the workplace.

Who says?

Socitm, Society of Information Technology Management

...adopting modern approaches to digital service development will pay dividends...Socitm members should be in no doubt that the digital agenda will play out in their organisations, with digital technologies and methods helping deliver better services and better value for money.
Trying to block social media is an approach doomed to failure, simply because it is impossible to stop people using it. ICT managers should instead consider how social media may help address the looming budget issues by engaging citizens, delivering services, and empowering employees in new ways of working. No organisation can afford to ignore the potential.

Socitm's response to some common objections:

  • Time wasting is a management issue.
  • Reputational damage is covered by the employee code of conduct.
  • Security risks are real, but they are as manageable as security risks from any other activity involving access to the internet (such as email).
  • Bandwidth: Text-based knowledge sharing need not be too demanding on bandwidth availability.

Socitm is also very clear in its view that ICT managers should not be the decision making authority on the matter of access to social media: see comment on Just Do It blog and Planting the Flag (in particular Principle Four on internal working practices)

The Scottish Government

Scotland Digital Future. Supporting the Transition to a World-leading Digital Economy:

The starting point... has to be a commitment to develop the digital capabilities of staff across the Scottish public sector. Organisations should ... encourage the development of digital literacy across their entire workforce. This should be supported by the development of workplaces and IT policies that enhance access to and familiarity of digital technology.

Digital Participation: A National Framework for Local Action

The Scottish Government is working in partnership with public, private and third sector organisations to ensure that all sections of Scottish society are able to make confident use of digital technologies and the internet.

Digital technology cannot be allowed to reinforce social and economic inequalities. Actions will remove barriers to digital participation, tackle inequalities, help people to engage with online public services and provide opportunities to develop skills required for active digital citizens.

Scottish Government's social media policy

Social media offer us new channels for engagement and collaboration within, and more importantly, beyond our own organisation. Increasingly, citizens and customers and colleagues simply expect to be able to engage with companies and public bodies on platforms like SlideShare, Twitter and Facebook.

A Strategy and Action Plan for Embedding Knowledge in Practice in Scotland's Social Services

The strategy aims to help and encourage all staff ...to develop a culture in which using and sharing knowledge becomes an integral part of their day to day practice.
the strategy seeks to demystify 'technology' and bring clarity to the knowledge landscape by building competence and confidence in the use of online tools for finding, sharing and using knowledge... Web-based tools - such as Google search, Facebook, Twitter and social bookmarking - are now widely used by community groups. Organisations should therefore aim to provide a technical infrastructure that encourages and nurtures the innovative use of web-based interactive tools for communication, collaboration and learning

The Scottish Health Council e-participation guidance

Social media could be used to support major service change - specifically the Scottish Government's requirements to inform, engage and consult people in developing health and community care services.

Sir Bob Kerslake, Head of the (UK) Civil Service

Participating in social media is a good way to learn how a modern workforce engages and communicates and I hope that more and more of our staff will embrace these new ways of working.

Most staff can be trusted to use these technologies appropriately if they are aware of the constraints and the risks. And appropriate line management intervention may, in some cases, be a better solution than tighter technical controls that hinder business use.

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)

To date, much of the conversation [about social media] within organisations has been about the risks and threats (especially to employers) that may be associated with social media. However, the perils of an open approach to employee voice and the benefits of more traditional closed systems are often overrated. Moreover, there is little organisations can do to stem the rise of social media. Organisations should be designing their future in employee voice, before it designs them.


Like the railways, or the telephone, these tools are becoming part of the infrastructure of our society, changing how we do everything.

Carnegie UK Trust (Commission of Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland)

Social media is experiential in nature: it is difficult to fully understand social tools until one has participated and experienced them for oneself. Unlike basic computing skills, such as word processing or spreadsheet manipulation, the core understanding required to make good use of social technologies is cultural, not procedural.

The Police

We trust you with a baton and with the right to take away someone's liberty, I think we can trust you with a Twitter account.
Former Deputy Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie (Social Media Lead for UK Police)
And... when mistakes happen, keep things in proportion: Police Scotland apologise for Toby Young Newsnight tweet.

But is anyone really doing this?

What about the risks?

The world is not, and never has been, risk free. So let's put risk in perspective. Most information security lapses in recent years do not involve technology, the web or social media:

So what should I do?

  • If we start from the premise that professional people can be trusted to behave responsibly and are guided by professional codes of practice, as well as terms and conditions of employment, we can put risk in perspective.
  • Make the case that you are trusted to act responsibly and professionally in many other aspects of your job: writing letters, making phone calls, intervening in people's lives. Why not the web?
  • Suggest that web-based communication should be based on the principle of guide and nurture not command and control.
  • It's all about leadership: helping your organisation understand that web-based collaboration and communication are part of normal, everyday working.
  • There is no magic wand. Use the reports below to start a dialogue with ICT professionals and senior managers in your organisation.

My organisation is unconvinced...

They say they have to protect me from harmful stuff...

  • British Library blocks Hamlet. Filtering may provide an easy solution to managers struggling to get to grips with the technological changes that are challenging traditional notions of stewardship, information access and control, but we need much more debate and input from all citizens on what is a clumsy, inefficient, automated censorship tool and ultimately an affront to human rights.

They also say that people are just wasting time online...

Tell us your story

Do you have a story about blocked access? Or, even better, a positive story about social media in the workplace?

If you're an ICT professional we'd be pleased to hear from you too.

Read More


Photo Credit: The Hamster Factor via Compfight Creative commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)