"Your last name may not be Kardashian but I can guarantee someone is keeping up with you.”
― Germany Kent
We've come a long way since 1983 when researchers began to assemble the network of networks that became the modern Internet. Seven years later, computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee officially invented the World Wide Web, making the information superhighway popular and accessible to the public in 1990.
Today, the Internet is a necessity many of us can no longer imagine living without. Almost a basic human need right up there with food, water, and oxygen; it has completely revolutionized every aspect of our lives. Removing all communication barriers, it continues to connect us globally, impacting society in unforeseeable ways and rapidly evolving as we race to catch up.
Like everything in life, the Internet comes with the good, the bad, and the ugly. This post highlights some ways to navigate the bad because today is Safer Internet Day.
What originally started as an initiative for the European Union SafeBoarders project in 2004 is now observed around the world in February each year. And although the idea was to create awareness about the safe use of digital technologies among children and young people, today, we can all help make the Internet a better place for people of different age groups.
Here are 10 top ways we can practice safety online.
Avoid having your children use your devices unsupervised. Be actively involved and talk to them about digital safety. Stay informed about who they're talking to online and check their browser history. To quote Galit Breen, “Checking in on what our kids are doing online isn't 'helicoptering,' it's 'parenting.”
2. Young People
These are our most vulnerable, with statistics showing that the Internet, especially social media, is having alarmingly negative effects on teenagers. Cyberbullying, body-shaming, eating disorders, depression, self-harm, and predatory grooming are just a few things today's adolescents struggle with in silence. Let's encourage dialogue with young people and help them navigate the dangerous highways of the internet. Educating them on how to engage safely is not overrated.
3. Interpersonal Skills
Studies suggest excessive screen time causes feelings of loneliness and isolation. Which can lead to mental distress and neglecting social ties creating a viscous cycle. Young people and adults alike can develop Internet addictions, including pornography which continues to affect healthy relationships adversely. Seeking professional help is encouraged as we show the same empathy and support other addicts get. A social life that fosters physical interaction with others improves skills like communication, expressing affection, and emotional intelligence. Because we're wired for human contact, digital connections can never replace this essential need for the social bonds that affect us physically and emotionally.
Create strong passwords and change them regularly. Never share yours with strangers. But in cases where service providers need remote access, be sure to update as soon as the issue is resolved. To prevent multiple accounts from being hacked, avoid using the same password across the board.
5. Data mining
The Cambridge Analytica scandal caused a global uproar, but many people unknowingly continue to give consent to data mining. This happens when you log onto websites using your social media accounts. It may seem convenient, but by doing so, you permit both websites to exchange your data without your knowing what they do with it. Using an email is the safer option to log into individual websites.
Installing anti-virus and firewall software on all your devices can protect, prevent, detect, and remove malware. When using public or shared devices, make sure you log out afterwards. You can enable login alerts that warn you when your accounts are accessed from unknown devices. Avoid clicking links and opening attachments from unknown or questionable senders, and update your apps and browsers regularly.
7. Love Scams and Catfishing
Be extremely cautious on dating sites. Keep the conversation on the official site as long as possible because scammers want to work on you privately. Have a phone call and video chat, then meet only when you feel safe. Use your own transport to go meet in a public place, tell someone about the date, and have a code for danger. Goes without saying, NEVER send money to strangers online. Including that Nigerian Prince...
Many bad people online scheming bad things. Everything from human trafficking, identity and credit card information theft, and fraud. To muggings, house break-ins, stalking, and even murder streamed on social media. Because of the dangerous people lurking around, avoid revealing too much information like your home address, current location, birth dates, and many personal pictures like that selfie showing your exact and current location. Even a seemingly harmless photo of you picking up your kids from school can be enough for a sexual predator with the school address and photo of your child. The less information you share, the harder you make it for criminals to target you and your children. A pre-paid credit card is also an excellent way to protect your self when shopping online.
9. Fake News
How often do we reshare, comment, or like a post without taking a minute to counter check the legitimacy, or consider the effect? People share sensational news, political posts and scams. Leaked intimate photos and videos have driven many a victim to suicide because of shame. Today a content creator is not just the Blogger, Influencer, YouTuber, or Podcaster. Social media micro-blogging makes us all both consumers and creators. Let's not contribute to questionable content going viral with repercussions beyond our control.
10. Be Nice
One of the ugliest things about the Internet is its ability to facilitate aggression and hate. Keyboard warriors intentionally troll, bully, and spread malicious rumours destroying people's reputations. But sometimes we unintentionally hurt someone when we get caught up in a heated discussion or spontaneous clap backs. It helps to remember behind every screen is a human being like you. Yes, even the haters and trolls. And while I strongly believe in standing up for yourself and others, as well as using the BLOCK function, how about we make an effort to practice kindness, forgiveness, empathy, and respect for diversity and opinions?
The Internet is here to stay. With its benefits and amazing opportunities, may these simple tips remind us why it's imperative to proactively do what we can to make our digital communities a safer place for everyone.
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