Top tips for Safer Internet Day 2021

Categories: School of Health and Society

With more time than ever before being spent learning and working from home, it’s important to make sure you’re staying safe online.

Dr Redshaw and Dr Moore

Dr Tom Redshaw, Lecturer in Digital Society and Dr Karenza Moore, Lecturer in Criminology share their top tips on staying out of harm’s way this Safer Internet Day on Tuesday 9 February.

As apps and websites compete for our attention, they produce sophisticated ways for us to communicate, play and socialise. This has raised concerns about overuse, particularly when it comes to internet addiction disorders.

However, as Dr Redshaw notes: “Research around internet addiction disorders remains inconclusive and in times when we are physically distant from one another, online opportunities for maintaining emotional - if not physical - contact are all the more important.

“These benefits likely outweigh the fears of stress, addiction and information overload. Such issues are more likely to be caused by social isolation, which safe internet usage can help prevent.”

This is particularly relevant as many aspects of our lives have moved online during the pandemic. However, there are still ways you can balance your internet usage to keep yourself safe, both physically and mentally.

Tone down your usage

Do you ever feel anxious or restless after spending too much time on your phone? Perhaps you feel the pressure to be constantly available for others?

Dr Redshaw advises to “try and balance your online pursuits with your offline ones.”

Turning notifications off, setting your phone to grayscale and not using your phone in bed could all help your wellbeing.                                                                                                                     

Enhance your privacy

Tech companies record all our interactions online. Using privacy extensions such as Adblockers, regularly deleting unnecessary data and using strong passwords can help keep you secure. Why not try using alternative platforms such as DuckDuckGo as your search engine, or Signal as your messaging app?

Avoid disinformation

Disinformation is inaccurate or manipulated information which is spread on purpose to mislead the public.

Be sure to look out for:

  • websites ending with unusual domain names (e.g. ‘.com.co’)
  • poor spelling and grammar
  • a lack of sources provided for claims
  • an unverifiable author (meaning someone with no credible profile across other sites)
  • lockdown and vaccine scams which have recently emerged.

As Dr Moore and Dr Redshaw advise: “If it seems to be too good to be true, it almost certainly is, so avoid where possible”.

Check in with family – especially young children

Do you really know who you might be talking to online? The internet offers the chance for strangers to pretend to be someone they’re not. While adults might be able to spot a genuine person from a predator online, whether it’s from the tone of a conversation, or just a gut feeling - children may not. This puts young children in particular danger of being groomed.

Dr Moore says: “Certain groups of children and young people – mainly those already deemed vulnerable – need additional support in navigating the internet safely. Research tells us for example that young people are surprisingly bad at telling whether the person they are messaging online is a child or an adult”. 

There are usually no ‘tell-tale’ signs that a child is being groomed online, so it’s important for parents and carers to speak to young children on a regular basis about who they are interacting with.

How do you stay safe online? Find out more about Safer Internet Day 2021.

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