Five steps to a happier (and safer) internet

Fake news, hate speech, phishing, fraud and hacking – the internet isn’t safe, but it can be manageable

Safer Internet Day (SID) was launched in 2004 as part of the EU SafeBorders project and has, since then, grown to become a global phenomenon designed to help people live safer lives online. The past year has underscored how important it has become for people to manage their internet lives more carefully. Hate speech, fake news, increased cyber threats, and identity theft are just some of the very real challenges that are impacting people’s lives, and affecting their mental wellbeing.

Several studies have found a direct correlation between internet usage and depression, anxiety and stress. Negative news stories, the social media onslaught, the fears of becoming vulnerable to attack – these absolutely influence a person’s state of mind and wellbeing. In fact, the term ‘infodemic’ coined in 2003, resurfaced in 2020, and rightly so – it defines the endless flow of information, whether true or not, and its ability to engender fear and confusion.

This Safer Internet Day should absolutely focus on ensuring that your approaches to internet safety and security are aligned to best practice, but this year it should also focus on taking positive steps away from the infodemic and the negativity for a healthier and happier relationship with the internet.

Step 01:

In the lockdown, it was easy to fall into the mobile device and the internet, staying connected with people and news by consuming vast quantities of information, using new networking tools, and finding better ways to collaborate. But it took its toll. Burnout increased by 33% in 2020. People were tired, disconnected and disinterested. To avoid falling into this trap again in 2021, take time away from technology. Go outside, limit your device usage, cut back on technology and remember what it was like to be disconnected instead.

Step 02:

Focus on the positive. If you receive an instant message or unverified social media message that makes you feel angry or afraid, it’s very likely that it was engineered to do just that. A fake news sample that uses just enough real information to make you wonder if it is right. Everyone gets caught out by fake news, it’s often done brilliantly, so take a moment to pause and reflect before sharing the news or getting upset. Your best decision may be to simply delete it, and move on. The same applies to the news, use reliable news outlets, avoid risky URLs that can not only infect your devices but your wellbeing, and limit your news viewing to set times per day. You can stay abreast of current affairs without feeling like you’re sitting on a live wire, enduring every last negative event.

Step 03:

The same principle applies to fraud, phishing and similar scams. If you receive an email, SMS, call or social media message that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it comes from a source like an instant messaging platform, don’t trust it. If it offers you a massive discount if you share your information, check the source and the URL first. Be aware, always. The internet is not a safe space and everyone has to be more cautious and conservative in their approaches.

Step 04:

Think before you click, and get tools that remind you to think before you click. Always check your URL or the links in an email or a SMS or message – fake ones are obvious once you really look at them, but easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. Invest into putting security tools on your desktop and keep them updated. It’s easy to forget to update your browser or your security system because you’re busy, but those five minutes could protect you from five months of fixing a hack or ID theft.

Step 05:

Look for happiness on the internet. It’s as easy to find the good news as it is to find the bad news. Here are some of the websites you absolutely should visit when the world and the pandemic just get to be too much:

For example, did you know that as a direct result of the pandemic, animal shelters are emptier than ever before?

There are also apps like Calm and Happify that are designed to give you little bites of happiness on demand. It’s worth changing your SID from just being about protecting your technology system, protect your physical one too…

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