The future of internet safety, reimagined

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Gitanjali Rao

Internet safety is a standard set of practices to protect personal identity, information, and online interactions with others. There has been some kind of internet security guidelines, since the general usage of the internet 25 years ago. However, these have not adapted to changing user behaviors, the pervasiveness of computing devices, and increased reliance on the internet for commerce and communication.

This has allowed an opportunity for ill-intentioned users to exploit others and create challenges for everybody else to use the internet with confidence. It is time that we reimagine what internet security looks like. As with any new platform with that many positive sides, there are consequences.

My name is Gitanjali Rao, and I like to spread the message of kindness and its importance in our community. I like to use technology to solve problems in our community and hopefully inspire others to be kind to self, community, and environment.

For example, to address the growing threat of cyber-bullying, I have recently created an internet service called “Kindly” that helps in detecting and preventing cyberbullying, especially in schools, using the latest developments in Artificial Intelligence technology.

However, today I want to talk about internet safety in general and share my interest in internet safety and help others stay safe as well.

To digest such a broad topic, I want to break up internet or cyber-safety into three different categories :

●  General security of personal data and content

●  Protection against discrimination or the “-isms”

●  Protection against cyber-bullying

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This illustration, by Ellie Zahedi, was originally created for My Mind Our Humanity, a global campaign led by the Lancet Young Leaders for Global Mental Health. The campaign supports young people in their role as agents of change for a healthy, fair and inclusive future.
This illustration, by Ellie Zahedi, was originally created for My Mind Our Humanity, a global campaign led by the Lancet Young Leaders for Global Mental Health. The campaign supports young people in their role as agents of change for a healthy, fair and inclusive future.

Cybersecurity

We all underestimate the power of technology and the internet. We must start to understand the safety measures behind it. I’ve always thought of it as something that’s mostly common sense. I had a whole class about computer safety at school, and it was just going over things like don’t share your password, don’t go to websites that aren’t trustworthy, and most importantly, don’t let into dangers on the internet.

Sure, I was going to be careful of those things. Still, I didn’t understand the impact that it had on people until I started hearing about situations where people were talking to dangerous individuals on the internet, their technology was getting hacked, and their information was being released. I realized how big of a problem being secure on the internet is.

As stated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “Cybersecurity is the art of protecting networks, devices, and data from unauthorized access or criminal use and the practice of ensuring confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information.” Since 2013 there are approximately 3,809,448 records stolen from breaches every day.. 158,727 per hour, 2,645 per minute, and 44 every second of every day.

To remain safe on the internet and continue performing cyber-secure activities, we must start by understanding it similar to I did. We need to understand and absorb the fact that, yes, this is a problem that I have to be aware of. I know it seems silly at first; however, your future depends on it. It usually starts by remembering the basic things and making a checklist for yourself.

 I will not talk to strangers on the internet.

❏  I will not share my personal information with ANYONE.

❏  I will not visit websites, download data, or click on links, that I have not received permission to visit or I am new to.

❏  If any of the above occurs, I will notify a trusted adult.

I like to use this to make sure that I am personally staying as safe as possible on the internet. Now that we’ve gathered information about how to be safe on the internet let’s talk about how we can help others feel safe on the internet.

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Photo by Magnus Mueller

The​ -Isms

“​-ism”​ are topics or ideas that are usually used in an offensive way to deliver a hurtful message and discriminate against certain types of people. Some of the most common ​-isms​ are sexism, racism, and ageism. We must stay away from these on the internet and that we also do not contribute to the cause.

For me, as a Southeast Asian female teenager who is a scientist, I sometimes face racist, sexist, or ageist comments, however, I’ve learned to block them out—saying that it’s not as easy for others to block out the idea of getting hurtful comments on the internet.

For example, 1 in 4 Black Americans has faced racist remarks in the past year. This is unacceptable, and I want to share a method that makes it easier for me to keep myself away from discriminatory comments and remember not to post them.

When reading through YouTube or Instagram comments, we might find hurtful things. This trick helps me to ignore or take action.

Let’s start by rating a message we see online on a scale from 1 - 10, 1 being very kind, and ten being extremely rude.

1 🥰 2 ❤️ 3 😊 4 😐 5 😲 6 🤔 7 😞 8 ⚠️ 9 🛑 10 🚨

Now that we have it rated, I like to put down action items for each range.

1 - 3: Thank you for the kind message! Feel positive and happy about it!

4 - 7: That was rude of you, but I can look at the silver lining and remember that I am awesome!

8 - 10: This was extremely rude; unfortunately, I will have to report this.

This method can help you to identify what you need to do to stay positive and make sure you’re taking action when it’s needed.

Now that we have a solid understanding of how to make sure others feel safer on the internet let’s look into the bigger problem, the ones that the -Isms can lead to if continued.

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© UNICEF/UN0341047/Frank Dejongh

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a problem that has existed for a while. “Cyberbullying is simply the act of bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets,” as stated by the official Stop Bullying website. Issues like this should not continue.

I have moved schools almost seven times in the past ten years of my school life, and my biggest fear has always been cyberbullying. The unknown is still a scary thing, but with the introduction of technology, the impact and effect of the “unknown” can become worse. I’ve seen my friends be bullied on the internet, through text, and other social media.

1 in 5 students under the age of 18 is reported for cyberbullying during the school year. Students are 2 TIMES MORE likely to commit suicide if they have gone through bullying or cyberbullying.

Here is a method that I have used to help do my part in preventing cyberbullying: Let’s look at how we can be CLEAR in the messages we send out.

C - Clean?
L - Lucid?
E - Edited?
A - Agreed?
R - Respectful?

I developed this method to make it as easy as possible to understand what to post online. I recommend using this to make sure that you ask yourself if your messages are ​C.L.E.A.R.​ to send out!

Clean -​ Make sure that you are not using any inappropriate languages that could hurt someone in your messages.

Lucid​ - Is it easy to understand? Were you able to make sure it was expressed well and cannot be misconstrued?

Edited​ - Ensure that you edit your message and that it is precisely the way you want it to be and not something unintentionally hurtful. It doesn’t hurt to re-think something.

Agreed​ - When feasible, make sure to peer review your comment with at least one other person and get their opinion. When not possible, make sure you imagine your best friend reading your message.

Respectful​ - The most important one, in my opinion. The final check: are you kind with your message?

This method allows me to make sure that I am being kind with everything I am sending out!

We’ve learned about the impacts that internet safety has, the branches of it, heard about my personal experience, and ways to tackle it personally. I want to reach out to ALL of you and remind you that this is not just what we need to do after these uncertain times; this is what we should do for the rest of eternity.

Technology and the development of it are only going to grow, and our generation is ALREADY facing problems that have never existed before. It’s our turn to make a difference in society and to do what’s best for our peers. I wanted to share this with you to empower all of you to make a change in your life about how you use technology.

One kind message, one person saved from suicide, and one person feeling safer on the internet is a success for all of us.


This article, by 14-year old Science Entrepreneur Gitanjali Rao, is part of a series of blogs where young people identify and implement innovative solutions for a better future. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, it is normal to feel you are no longer in control of your future, or be uncertain about your next steps in life. We must listen to young people and work alongside them to design a better future. To Reimagine it. Do you want to share your vision, too?

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