Aside from providing us with an endless source of memes and cat videos, the internet has connected the world, transformed entertainment, and made our lives far more convenient. However, with all of this good comes some risk. That’s why online safety is important, and why we’ve written this guide to help you.
Why is online safety important?
Nowadays, we rely on the internet for almost everything. In doing so, we leave our personal and private data at risk. One way to reduce that risk is to protect your data. Here are a few other important things you can do to make sure that you stay safe online, and maintain your wellbeing in the digital world.
Social media networks are a great way to have fun and stay connected with others online, and there are a few simple things you can do to make sure they are safe too:
- Use your privacy settings. Default settings on sites like Facebook and Instagram can leave the content you create and share visible to more people than you’d expect.
- Think before you share. Think twice before posting pictures you wouldn’t want your parents or future employers to see. One study found that 70% of job recruiters have rejected candidates based on information that they found online.
- Don’t share personal information. Be careful about posting too much personal information online. People can use it to steal your identity, and you never know who might come across a post where you show where you live, for example.
- Know what action to take. If someone is harassing or bullying you online, block them, report them using the site’s report function, and tell someone about it.
Sexting is when you swap sexual messages and photos (nude selfies, for example). It’s illegal in many countries when it involves anyone under 18, but lots of younger people still sext and it can be a fun way of flirting or connecting with someone. It can have some serious consequences though, so really think before you do it. Remember that once an image/video is sent, you have no control over where it might end up - you might have a great relationship now, but you don’t know how the other person will act in the future. When images from sexting end up in the wrong hands, it can cause serious mental distress.
Online dating and dating apps and social media make it easier than ever before to meet new people. While most people out there have good intentions, some don’t. Never put your personal contact details or information in your profile, and be careful how much you share with people you don’t know. When you go on a date with someone new, tell a friend where you are. Remember that most dating apps have a minimum age of 18.
Most of us are rarely ever more than five feet away from our smartphones. A 2014 study found a correlation between high social media usage and depression/anxiety. Smartphone addictions can also disrupt sleep, lead to other addictions like online gambling, and generally negatively affect your wellbeing. Here are a few tips to help you regulate your smartphone use:
- Recognise the triggers which make you reach for your phone. A lot of the time we turn to our phones excessively when we are lonely, bored, and have nothing better to do. By recognising your triggers, you can find healthier alternatives for those moments.
- Set goals for when you can use your smartphone. This will help to regulate the amount that you use your phone. For example, you could turn your phone off at certain times during the day, or only turn it on once you've finished something you need to do.
- Don’t take your phone/tablet to bed. Blue light emitted from phone screens has been found to disrupt sleep if used within two hours of bedtime. Not bringing your phone to bed will help you avoid that damaging blue light, and ensure that you don’t stay up all night on your phone.
- Remove problematic apps from your phone. For example, if it's social media apps which cause you to compulsively check your phone for updates, remove them from your phone so that you can only login on your computer.
Research shows that people who get their news mainly from social media are more likely to believe fake news. Because social media can show a large number of news headline in a short space of time, people usually don’t take the time to verify each headline and where it comes from, and believe them implicitly. To protect yourself from fake news you can:
- Look out for sensational headlines, with photos that are out of context
- Check what other news outlets are covering the story, and whether one particular source is telling the story from a radically different perspective to everyone else
- Check what source the story comes from, and learn which sources are credible. Get into the habit of getting your info straight from credible news sources rather than social media.
- Escape the algorithm. Remember that social media sites have algorithms that learn what you like and show you more of the same, hiding other views from you.