The start of my story with digital literacy is past my frame of remembrance, but I do have distinct memories of what my school called, “digital boot camp” a chapter in adolescent Ammarah’s majestic entry into dreaded high school.
The day consisted of logging onto your device, downloading Office Suite, installing WordPress, and writing up your very first blog post for your “Edublog” (Educational Blog- genius isn’t it?). Now while I may not have imagined that one blog being the start of a long journey with publishing myself online, my experience with content creation and the psychology of internet interaction has taught me a few things about online dangers and how trusting anyone- or any site blindly, is akin to devouring a tainted lollipop offered by a sweet stranger.
So in honor of five years of blogs and personal sites, here is a list of my top three curated internet dangers.
There is a sense of power that runs through a user when no one knows who they are outside of what they describe themselves as, making many believe in perfect anonymity in the cyberverse. And while it is true that, “most people you encounter can’t easily tell who you are” you still leave breadcrumbs of IP addresses and emails, and most importantly, the messages you convey (Suler 2001). John Suler explores this phenomenon in reference to disinhibition, as people when anonymous feel they “don’t have to own their behavior” and can disassociate from the ramifications (2001). This can create a dangerous incubator for “the spread of misinformation or fake news, as well as cyberbullying, trolling and hate crime” all under created names or no name at all (CBBC 2021).
Building off on anonymity, misinformation is also an instigator of tensions online, with tabloids turning into creative writing pieces and Wikipedia offering the reigns to history to anyone who creates an account. Wu Peiyue writes about one particular case of historic internet hoaxes as she describes fantasy writer, Yifan’s discovery of “millions of words” detailing “imagined history” on Chinese Wikipedia, that no one had contested for years (2022). This doesn’t include all the potential, untracked articles, papers, and projects that anyone with internet access could have created with the misinformation they unwittingly propagated. This is combined with the growing trust in platforms like social media for reliable news, with “adults under 30 ..(being) almost as likely to trust information from social media sites as they are to trust information from national news outlets (Liedke 2022).” This growing trend combined with our knowledge of anonymity and misinformation makes for an uncertain road for the average data consumer and a dire need for studies related to misinformation transmission.
Three: Digital Illiteracy
The final internet danger that has me especially fearful is the average individual’s digital ill literacy. Digital literacy as a whole can be broken into three tenets, “finding and consuming skills,” “creating digital content,” and “communicating and sharing digital media” (UOTP Marketing 2022). Digital illiteracy in my definition relates primarily to the consumption of media and how with the propagation of false information, individuals often lack the necessary toolkit to determine what constitutes a reliable site or source. WikiHow runs a three-step test to determine the credibility of the site itself including looking into the site certification and quality of the content (Lloyd 2023). Such tests combined with useful tools like Snopes allow individuals to better understand where their information is coming from and if the fact they are using is really a known truth. Digital literacy also involves critical analysis of bias within media, especially with large, trusted sites like CBC being “in favor of the left,” a bias many may not even recognize (Carafa 2002). So while large, reputable news sources may only have slight biases that may not influence content excessively, there are other sites with heavy biases that can also go unnoticed.
So while digital boot camp was a bit of a headache at the time, it has offered insight into the importance of digital literacy and the dangers of internet quirks like anonymity and misinformation. I wouldn’t take candy from a stranger and taking information blindly from someone on the internet is no different.
Carafa, Tiziana. “Is CBC Really Biased?” Policy Options Politiques, Policy Options Politiques, 9 Dec. 2021, https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/kyoto/is-cbc-really-biased/.
CBBC. “Social Media: Should People Be Allowed to Be Anonymous Online?” BBC Newsround, BBC, 26 Feb. 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/56114122.
Liedke, Jacob. “Trust in Social Media Is Changing. Here’s How It Breaks down by Age.” World Economic Forum, World Economic Forum, 4 Nov. 2022, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/11/social-media-adults-information-news-platforms/.
Lloyd, Jack. “3 Easy Ways to Find If a Website Is Legitimate.” WikiHow, WikiHow, 10 Feb. 2023, https://www.wikihow.com/Find-if-a-Website-Is-Legitimate#:~:text=How%20to%20Check%20the%20Security%20of%20a%20Website,itself%20%28e.g.%2C%20%22wikihow%22%29%2C%20and%20the%20…%20See%20More.
Suler, John. “The Online Disinhibition Effect.” Psychology of Cyberspace – the Online Disinhibition Effect, The Psychology of Cyberspace, 2001, https://truecenterpublishing.com/psycyber/disinhibit.html.
Tone, Sixth. “She Spent a Decade Writing Fake Russian History. Wikipedia Just Noticed.” SixthTone, SixthTone, 11 July 2022, https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1010653.
UOTP Marketing. “What Is Digital Literacy and Why Is It Important?” University of the Potomac, University of the Potomac, 9 Mar. 2023, https://potomac.edu/what-is-digital-literacy/#:~:text=Because%20of%20the%20overflowing%20abundance%20of%20media%20and,use%20digital%20platforms%2C%20and%20communicate%20with%20others%20eloquently.