Safer Internet Day 2022: Tips for protecting yourself online

The internet is a great resource, and for Safer Internet Day 2022, GCN is offering advice on how to make your online experience as positive as possible.

A person uses the mouse of their computer as Safer Internet Day encourages online safety.
Image: Pexels

Today, February 8, 2022, marks the 19th annual edition of Safer Internet Day – an EU-wide initiative to promote a safer internet for all users. This year’s theme is ‘Together for a Better Internet’ and in honour of the occasion, GCN is offering advice on how to stay protected while online.

Spotting false information

When consuming information online, it can be easy to automatically believe what you read. However, as made evident throughout the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is very easy for inaccurate, misleading, and totally untrue information to be spread online. Entire stories may be fabricated with no verifiable facts, sources or quotes, or in some cases, there may be accurate elements but they are presented in a false or misleading way.

To protect yourself from misinformation, firstly, look beyond the headline. Be sure to check the source and determine if it is credible and reliable. Check other sources as well, to see if the information holds up. Another piece of advice is to examine whether the piece is fact or opinion through the language used, and also to determine whether it is a parody story from a site like Waterford Whispers. Lastly, there are a number of fact-checking sites which can help you to find out if a story has already been debunked, or if it was ever true at all.

Engaging with strangers

For members of the LGBTQ+ community, the internet can provide great ways to meet like-minded people and foster new connections. For many, it feels like one of the safest places, where they are confident enough to be their true authentic self. However, engaging with people you do not know in real life can be extremely dangerous, and even life-threatening in some cases. 

Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ dating apps have sometimes been used as a means to locate queer folk, and carry out homophobic attacks. Just this month, it was being reported that in Melbourne, Australia, three gay men were assaulted after being lured to a park by a group of teenagers posing online as another dater. In this day and age, with apps like Tinder and Grindr being extremely popular, it is essential that you remain cautious if deciding to meet up with someone you have met online.

SpunOut has a list of advice to follow in order to stay safe in these situations, which includes asking for the person’s social media, asking for multiple pictures of their face, telling someone that you trust your plans, meeting somewhere public and safe, and more.

Protecting your mental health

As mentioned earlier, the internet and social media can be a great way to connect with people and explore content that peaks our interests. However, at times the content that we engage with can do more harm than good in terms of our mental health and self-perception. Many people, especially younger members of society, have admitted to feeling pressure to live up to certain standards that have been set because of online culture.

When consuming social media content from your favourite celebrities and influencers (among others), it is important to see the full picture before making comparisons. For example, images posted by online personalities are always carefully selected, and can sometimes be heavily edited. Furthermore, many of these people have resources like stylists, personal trainers, nutritionists, etc. that help them to achieve higher beauty standards, as seen by society, and which are unrealistic for others.

Using social media should be a fun experience, and not one that damages anyone’s self-worth. Remember to think critically about what you see online, and that likes and followers are not a reflection on a person’s true value. Unfollow accounts that make you feel negatively, and search for new perspectives that help you to focus on the positives.

These are just some of the ways that you can help to protect yourself online, and much more information is available as a part of Safer Internet Day 2022. If you see or are a victim of online harassment or cyberbullying, tell someone you trust and report it to An Garda Síochána.

© 2022 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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