The 9th February 2021 is Safer Internet Day. The theme this year is ‘An internet we trust: exploring reliability in the online world‘.
According to research by the UK Safer Internet Centre (February 2021), 77% of young people surveyed feel that being online has been a more important part of their life in 2020 than ever before. With many of you living two lives side by side, your life offline and your life online, it is now more important than ever that you are able to separate fact from fiction, the genuine from the misleading. It is crucial that you are able to decide who to believe online, and what impact fake content and experiences online can have.
3 Areas of Risk
- Conduct – your own actions and behaviours which may cause harm or put you at risk.
- Contact – unsuitable, unpleasant or harmful online interactions.
- Content – unreliable, inappropriate, illegal or harmful material.
Lock Down Your Devices and Accounts
Protect your devices and online accounts with strong passwords, face recognition or 2 factor authentication. When using passwords, use separate passwords for your key accounts such as email, banking and social media. Use passwords that contain letters, symbols and numbers, and that are made up of random words.
Keep a Clean Machine
Keep the software on any devices connected to the internet up-to-date to reduce the risk of your devices being infected with malware. Protect devices such as PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones from software designed to disrupt, damage, or gain access to your device.
Protect Personal Information, it is Valuable
Information about you, such as your purchase history and location for example, is valuable. Think about how it’s collected by apps and websites. For example, if you don’t alter the settings on your smartphone, the photos that you take can contain data such as where the image was taken. Websites collect data about your behaviour on the internet, to prevent this surf anonymously/incognito or use privacy extensions.
If in Doubt, Throw it Out
Cybercriminals often attempt to steal your personal information using links. They may, for example, send you an email containing a link to a fake website such as your bank’s website, trying to trick you into entering your account details. They may add an attachment to an email, which if opened installs malware onto your device. The malware could be ransomware. This locks your files so you cannot access them and the cybercriminal asks you for money to unlock them. Even if you know the source, if something doesn’t look right delete it.
Beware of What You Share
Think before you post. Ask yourself what your post reveals about you or someone else. Ask yourself who might see your post and how it might be perceived by others. Could it harm you now or in the future? Could it upset or harm someone else?
Control Your Online Presence
Be sure to keep the privacy and security settings on social media up-to-date and think about who you want to share information with. Keep in mind that what you post is only as private as the person you are sharing it with.
Who Are You Talking To?
Not everyone is who they claim to be! We aren’t telling you something you didn’t know, but predators can be very convincing. They pull you in by establishing a relationship or other emotional connection. They may take advantage if you are feeling low, by claiming to have had similar experiences to you. They may offer a ‘shoulder to cry on’, an ‘understanding ear’.
Online predators are often charismatic/confident individuals. They are happy to take their time and can be very persuasive, showing an interest in you and in what you think and feel. They may claim to have the same interests and views, gradually building a connection. Not all predators connect with you through social media, some will insinuate themselves into your life through gaming for example.
Avoid being manipulated online by asking yourself:
- Do I really know this person?
- How do I know I can trust them?
- What do they want, why have they contacted me?
- Are they asking me to do something I’m not comfortable with, or that I know is wrong?
- Are they trying to change what I think, my views or beliefs?
Don’t Be Unduly Influenced
Influencers are people who are most commonly associated with YouTube and Instagram. They have built up a positive reputation with their followers and are viewed as credible and knowledgeable in a specific topic or field. Not all influencers are authentic, yet they have developed the power to influence people’s purchasing decisions. This is one of the reasons that many influencers are paid by big companies to promote their products. They do this in the hope that they will persuade followers to purchase those products.
Not all influencers are frauds, or ‘in it for the money’, and following an influencer only becomes an issue if it has a negative impact on you. For example some influencers depict themselves as having the perfect body and will promote products that they suggest will help you to achieve the same look. This may encourage you to buy things that you don’t really need. It’s easy to forget that images may have been edited, or filtered. You may be trying to achieve something that isn’t real, and if you can’t it may cause you to feel bad about yourself. You may also start to feel pressure to keep up with the latest trend. This can happen without you realising and can lead to negative levels of stress. Be critical, always ask yourself:
- Is what I’m seeing genuine?
- Are they just trying to persuade me to buy something?
- Is this really what I need?
Spotting misinformation and fake news is not easy and these days it’s increasing more than ever. Exposure to fake news has become an everyday occurrence.
Categories of fake news:
- Untrue stories published to:
- influence your thoughts and decisions
- encourage you to visit specific websites (which could be fraudulent, or feature content you would not normally wish to see)
- encourage you to believe something that’s false
- encourage you to buy something
- Stories which are partially true, for example reporting an actual event but misreporting some of the circumstances or facts, or an extreme interpretation of facts to fit an agenda. This type of fake news is designed to spread the views or beliefs of the author, in an attempt to influence others.
- Some fake news grows out of urban myths or are simply messages changing as they pass from person to person.
- Some people claim that factually accurate news is fake news because they don’t agree with it, or don’t like it.
Technology is making fake news harder to spot
Technology, in particular artificial intelligence, has made it possible to manipulate videos, or other digital representations, in order to produce images and sounds that appear to be real. These ‘deepfakes’ are easier to produce than you would think, with the technology used to create such digital content accessible to almost anyone. ‘Deepfakes’ have made fake news difficult to spot.
This ‘deepfake’ video is an excerpt from ‘A True History of Fake News by Ian Hislop‘ made for the BBC. The complete documentary can be viewed on YouTube.
So it’s fake, why should you care?
- Fake news destroys your credibility – you cannot build a valid argument using poor quality information.
- You deserve the truth – you are smart enough to make up your own mind, as long as you have the real facts in front of you.
- Fake news can hurt people – for example misleading or incorrect medical advice. The UK has lost its measles free status, with cases of measles being attributed, in part, to misleading information about vaccines.
- Real news can benefit you – for example if you are planning on voting in an election, accurate information about candidates will help you to vote for the person who best represents your ideas and beliefs.
- A side effect of the disinformation campaigns is that they make social media as a whole seem inherently untrustworthy and give fodder to those who want to cast doubt on the legitimacy of authentic movements.
This is an interesting video from ‘Ted Talks’, that asks people who use social media to consider their role in the spread of fake news.
How to spot fake news
- Ask yourself if this would actually happen. Question why it was created, is it attempting to change your viewpoint, sell you something, or simply shock you.
- Is anybody else reporting the same story? Check to see if respected newsfeeds and websites have also reported the story.
- Research the source. Is it a reputable publisher, or an individual’s personal blog.
- Fact check. Is it supported by official data and surveys, or is it anecdotal/fabricated.
- Check the images and illustrations. Use Google’s reverse image search to see if they’ve been taken from another source.
- Use your instincts. Ask yourself if the story seems too strange or unreal.