A Digital Life1st Mar 2018
Living in an estate provides one with a real sense of community. You know your neighbours, your kids can ride around the neighbourhood on their bikes, and you can even go for a leisurely sunset stroll to unwind. However, given how connected we have become, the lines between real communities and digital ones are blurring. But is this a good thing and how do we protect ourselves and our privacy?
These virtual worlds surround us
Whether it is Facebook or Twitter, WhatsApp or WeChat, or even the bulletin boards of old, people are inundated with environments that enable them to stay in touch with family and friends the world over. It also provides us with a wonderfully efficient way to stay informed and gain access to things (think along the lines of Amazon and Netflix) which
would not be possible without connectivity.
Even though online spaces are nothing new, people have generally become increasingly lazy to safeguard themselves from threats
Even though these online spaces are nothing new, people have generally become increasingly lazy to safeguard themselves from threats. In South Africa alone, there are more than 16 million active Facebook users. Not too shabby out of a population of 50-odd million. In fact, statistics show us that more than 21 million people have internet connectivity.
So, while many First World markets see Africa as the dark continent when it comes to accessibility, the opposite is quite true. Yes, there are still significant strides to be made around the high costs of mobile data and the availability of high-speed internet in even the most rural of areas, but the country is showing an upward trajectory at least.
It’s a fake
As an absolute basic step, each device you or your loved ones use to connect to the internet needs to have some sort of cyber-security software installed. Viruses, trojans, bots, etc. are just a few of the things they can help protect against. There are plenty of good solutions available, many at no cost so that you really have no excuse. And just because it is a phone or tablet does not mean you should not protect the information on there as well. However, looking beyond the security of devices, there is a growing trend that is a significant cause for concern fake news.
Think of the impact that rumours and gossip have in small or closed communities. Consider the damage a flippant remark can do and how it negatively affects the people it is about. Fake news is the virtual equivalent of this. Digital communities have made it easy to share information. And, just like in the real world, it is often the more outrageous news and views that spread like wildfire.
As a certain US president can attest to, the damage that can be caused by spreading fake news is significant. Part of fake news is the increasing number of hoaxes, scams, and other bits of nonsense (think 419 scams) that get liked, shared, and posted on your social network of choice. Even WhatsApp has become inundated with these.
While we do not all have the time to verify every bit of news or information that we come across, we can certainly be more selective about what we share and post to our digital communities. Often these scams or hoaxes provide a link that, when clicked through to, contains malicious software that can infect a device. Some of these are as ‘harmless’ as simply sharing the hoax to all your contacts but others can use your device to steal sensitive financial information.
Do yourself a favour. Perform a quick Google search on your name or that of a loved one. You might be surprised by the results. Privacy in digital communities has become a very fluid concept. Just look at the typical Facebook or Instagram feed of a teenager and you will be amazed at what they share. Quite different from what you would ordinarily tell a family member, never mind the whole world.
However, the same rules should apply to the digital world as they do to the real one. Avoid sharing your exact location (think those very helpful Facebook check-ins), personal information (those photographs containing your car registration number, cellphone number or other sensitive content), and fitness tracking information (those routes you take jogging or cycling outside of the estate can be used to build a pattern, especially if you follow the same ones daily).
In all instances, whether it is security, fake news, and even privacy, common sense should still be your guiding light. If giveaways are too good to be true in the digital world, they generally are. You do not share your contact details with everyone you meet face to face, so why do you post your number online? Keep things like this in mind to create a safer and more secure digital community for yourself and your friends and family.