Internet is now among the most important resources to mankind. It is not only used for watching viral videos, but to transact online, store sensitive information and social interaction. The internet has become a whole new frontier, a whole new dimension to exist. It’s so vast that if you consider Facebook to be a country, it will be the third largest country after China and India. In a place that harbours so much information, safety is of utmost importance.
The digital space has been bolstered by internet companies like Google, Amazon and Microsoft. Then there are countless other organisations earning their bread and butter from the internet. And on top of all this, there are the regular people like us, who spent a majority of time browsing news feeds, watching videos, reading articles and more importantly, sharing them with each other.
However, the internet, now 35 years old, is a dangerous place. It’s usefulness notwithstanding, the digital world has seen some pretty frightening things — data leaks, identity theft, cyberbullying and more recently, misinformation and fake news.
The situation in India is quite dire too. Vice notes that the situation in India (when summing up the fallout on social media after the murder of activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh) as a darker side of the internet on full display. Trolling and cyberbullying is now a major part of the digital conversations that we have, while false propaganda masked as news, is spread through social channels like WhatsApp and Facebook, all of which owe their existence to the internet.
On Internet Safety Day, there has never been a more apt moment to talk about keeping oneself safe on the internet. For Google, the mission starts with children. At an event held in New Delhi today, Google announced it has collaborated with NCERT to integrate a course on Digital Citizenship and Safety in school curriculum. Through the course, Google aims to reach out to 1.4 million school children to teach them the tenets of becoming good and responsible digital citizens. Moreover, there is also a MOOC for teachers who can in turn help students to be responsible internet users. But that’s not where Google is stopping.
“NCERT was one such partnership. We are partnering with Cyber Peace Foundation to train mothers on Internet Safety. We are partnering with government bodies and consumer organisations to send across our message of some very simple things people can do to stay safe. We are taking it to Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities where new internet users are coming up,” Sunita Mohanty, Google India’s Director of Trust and Safety told Digit.
Microsoft gave a wider perspective on the issue of internet safety. The company conducted the 2nd Digital Civility Index that measures the attitudes and perceptions of teens and adults in 23 countries about the state of digital civility today. The survey took into account the respondent’s lifetime exposure of 20 online risks across four areas — Behavioral, reputational, sexual and personal/intrusive.
India came 7th among 23 countries, according to the survey. Microsoft revealed that millenials have the highest lifetime risk exposure of 77 percent, while nearly eight out 10 millenials have experienced a consequence from online risks. 20 percent of online perpetrators have been family or friends, while 47 percent females reported higher consequences as a result of harassment. You can read the detailed findings of the study here.
This again brought us to what Google is trying to do.
During our conversation, Mohanty said, “Internet Safety is a lot of things. We spoke about the technical aspects of it which includes spam, phishing, etc. which I think Chrome provides excellent protection from. There is also a social element of it. It’s about teaching children to be great digital citizens of the world. A lot of times they don’t even know how to react to fake listings, what are they downloading. They should be able to identify a bad download versus a good download. It is also about reporting badness on a number of platform. If you are getting cyber bullied, go and report it to the platform.”
Google is working with organisations about reporting the problem. It is also part of the curriculum that Google is integrating with NCERT, and includes reporting as well as understanding the basics of cyber bullying.
Social networking giant, Facebook is also at the thick of things, trying to “fix” the platform. It recently rolled out a feature called 'Profile Picture guard', which prevents other people from downloading and using your photo for identity theft. Facebook also made multiple efforts to curb the menace of fake news and even launched a suicide prevention hotline for victims. Its most recent effort is to make the time we spend online more meaningful by promoting richer inteactions over viral content.
However, despite the efforts of the so-called guardians of the internet, the digital space continues to be a haven for cyber criminals, bullies and scammers. Countless people have borne the consequences of their actions and more will, unless a united effort is undertaken. This not only involves these online organisations, but the very people who are a part of it. Internet safety is not just about keeping yourself protected from viruses and malwares. It is more importantly about maintaining online hygiene and keeping oneself civilised, while interacting with the world online and reaping the benefits of one of the most fascinating inventions of the modern world.