We often hear concerns about the safety of young people online, but it’s important to acknowledge that there are risks for people of any age. Aside from the well-reported threats to privacy and sensitive data, there are potential impacts on our social and emotional health. Below are some of the dangers, as well as benefits, of online engagement, and some simple ways we can support each other to stay safe and healthy online.
Risks and rewards
The online world can be a source of large scale positive change. It can connect people with community, combat loneliness through social media or online support systems, and help us stay informed through news sites or apps.
However, some platforms can be the host for a range of social health issues, including:
- The comparison trap, where we compare our lives to someone else’s seemingly glamorous or ‘perfect’ curated online life. This comparison can lead to insecurity, depression, and loneliness
- Cyber abuse and bullying, where anonymous messages can spread quickly, and lead to increases in depression and self-harm
- Exposure to violent or distressing content online, which may result in increased aggressive and fearful behavior in young people
- Exposure to false or misleading information, making it harder to recognize and verify the truth of the information we receive
- Spending less time on positive face-to-face interactions, which may lead to increased isolation, loneliness and the opportunity to build vital interpersonal skills.
Further discussion of the benefits and risks of online interaction can be found here.
So how can you keep others safe?
- Talk it through. The most important way to help others is to establish and maintain open conversations with those in your life about their (and your) online behavior and interests. You can’t make choices for them, but you can encourage your friends and family to safely contribute to healthy online communities.
- Tackle false information. You can help direct friends and family to platforms and content that is trusted- not just by you, but by independent sources. Investigate the articles and the tone of the content, and read the comments of people who post on these sites – are they positive or negative? Do they display a broad range of views?
- Model the behavior you want to see in others, particularly children. Always restrict your social sites and apps to people you know or have approved, even if it means less “likes”, and encourage others to do the same. Be careful not to put identifying information on social media – particularly on the sites of others where you haven’t approved the participants.
- Help people make the distinction between virtual interactions and those in their daily life.
- Encourage screen time restrictions.
- Encourage those around you to speak up when it comes to their social media presence – e.g. if they are not happy that a friend has uploaded a pic of them without their permission, they should immediately ask for it to be removed.
- Encourage community vigilance. If someone is concerned about content they find offensive or harmful, they can ignore it, unfollow the person or organisation responsible, or in cases where the content has a genuine chance of doing harm to others, they can report it to the platform’s moderators.
- Help monitor and moderate the social media behavior of young people. If someone you care about does become a victim of cyberbullying, you can also help them report it to the e-safety commissioner.
- Protect your data and maintain your privacy. It may seem obvious, but adults in particular can become complacent about protecting their information. A particularly vulnerable group to cyber fraud and manipulation are seniors, who may not be digital natives. Take the time to sit with anyone who is unsure about their risks and help them establish secure passwords and protections.
- The “Google test” – protect your online presence, and that of others. Encouraging others to think before they post is paramount. Anything that is posted, or sent digitally, can be found again. As with offline interactions, be aware all behavior has impacts, particularly when it can be searched and seen for years to come. A good way to think about this is to ask the person what can be found, or what they would want to be found, when they search their own name online.
For more about how to help others stay safe online visit:
If you need help or advice on how best to support someone, our trained counsellors can help. We’re available 7am – 9pm, seven days a week. If you need to talk, give one of our Step Together counsellors a call on 1800 875 204 or use our anonymous online chat service.