As a millennial, I can say that I have been in two different millennia; that I am part of a generation that is currently the largest demographic; and most impressively, I can tell you that I have seen the days before the Internet and after the Internet and it isn’t all rosy. The Internet has changed the way we live our lives and more importantly, it is changing and evolving at a rapid rate. Sometimes, even the younger ‘Internet’ generation is caught off-guard with new innovations. Gone are the days when the Internet was restrained to computers and hand-held devices. From everyday kitchen items like microwave ovens, fridges to lighting, air-conditioning and even the plumbing, showers and taps are now ‘smart’. Each of these innovations has been enabled by the Internet and has already been adopted into our lives without realising any of the potential risks involved. How can we ensure a Safer Internet in this environment of rapidly evolving risks? The answer is to practice the key aspects of our basic defence to any unknown risk – Awareness, Mindfulness and Literacy.
We have become so conditioned to instant gratification, that most of our everyday actions are to satisfy a need without ever analyzing the potential risks involved. True, the possibility of facing the risk might be low but having never even considered it in the first place can make us severely ill-equipped to handle a situation. We scroll through pages of privacy agreements without ever perusing a single sentence and accept the risks. We use delivery services without realizing the demeaning conditions and the meagre pay that workers are dealt on a daily basis. We support causes on social media that are trending for meme-worthy reasons and never factually analyze the situation. This is because we never ask the hard-hitting questions. “Who are the people behind the screens that are affected by your actions?”, “How are they affected?”, “Why is this important?”. Becoming aware of the effects of your actions on the Internet is the first step to ensuring a safer Internet.
Since technology is advancing at a faster rate than our ability to handle or fully grasp the risks, properly educating yourself and others can seem like an onerous and uphill task. As part of my course on Computer Networks, the professor used the analogy of mail to explain how the Internet works. It is a little difficult to use this with your children, who don’t know about post offices and mail in the first place but my point is that stories and examples are great tools to get started. Use exercises such as tracing the data from your smart device to how a request is satisfied, giving great detail to where the data is processed and how. This can gradually lead to a conversation about the privacy of data and the risk of exploitation.
… That brings me to my next point, having open conversations. Putting in place child-locks, restricting the use of the Internet or taking away their phones might seem to cull the problem but only until an alternative that you haven’t thought about springs out. Having the conversation about the risks can alleviate and help children try to understand the reason behind your protective measures. It is always advisable to have the requisite protection in place. As teens, young adults or adults, ensure that children are protected against malicious content, disclosure of details to anonymous persons, porn and content which is violent or disturbing. Most devices allow you to parse the data through a firewall and it is money well-spent to invest on an Internet firewall software system for your home.
For the young users of the Internet, nothing can seem more validating than to be part of an Internet trend. However, know the import of your actions before posting a harsh hate comment, sharing negative content or generally promoting online abuse. Know that it is never okay to hurt someone or to be rude. Anonymity is a double-edged sword. Online abuse can happen to anyone and hiding behind a blank profile makes the comments no less hurtful. Do not take part in online hate culture. Be respectful, Look to the positive, Collaborate, Create and share positive content, Build up others. It is important to realize that critique can also be kind and respectful.
There are many other ways to promote a Safer Internet. Bring the conversation to the physical world. Create awareness campaigns and get policy and decision makers involved. Campaign for institutions and government alike to invest on fostering a Safer Internet. The risks of the Internet sure are multi-pronged and more dangerous than ever. Perhaps, not unlike a mythical creature of yore, the Hydra, which sprouted five heads in the place of one cut off. While the task of providing a Safer Internet might seem Herculean, it is not impossible as long as we remember and practise the greatest tools at our disposal – awareness, mindfulness and literacy.