With the advent of the Internet and other new digital media, this has brought about a new communication landscape that many of us are still finding our way about. Not only does it present many unfamiliar features to us, it also presents risks and pitfalls for both old and young Internet users.
In general, cyber-wellness refers to the positive well-being of Internet users, particularly the youth, and a healthy cyber culture for the Internet community. It involves gaining an understanding of the risks of harmful online behaviour, an awareness of how to protect oneself and other Internet users from such behaviour, and a recognition of the power of the Internet to benefit oneself and other users.
In order to achieve this, the authorities, teachers, parents and the youth must work together to raise general awareness about this issue, as well as share skills on how to cope with the new digital media environment.
After all, the Internet is just an communication medium. Whether it turns out useful or harmful will largely depends on how the user applies it.
1. What are the four underlying values behind cyber-wellness?
- Embracing the Net & Inspiring Others. Internet users should adopt an attitude of using the Internet to make a positive difference to others through their online activities, instead of using the medium to disparage or harm others.
- Aututeness. Internet users should develop a sense of being 'street smart' when using the Internet, such as developing an awareness of the dangers in cyberspace and recognising the different forms of this danger, as well as identifying and protecting others from harmful and illegal online behaviour.
- Respect & Responsibility. Internet users should not abuse the medium for hacking, surfing pornographic sites, putting up false rumours, infringing others' privacy and rights, and illegally downloading copyrighted media.
- Beyond the Internet. Internet users should understand the balance between cyberspace and the physical world, such that the Internet is used in moderation. This is to prevent symptoms like Internet addiction or addiction to online games.
2. Cyber-wellness issues
Currently, five key issues have been identified among the youths in their Internet use.
(i) Cyber Safety
The convenience of the Internet often makes it easy for online predators to identify and track down their victims, who often unwittingly give out personal information. Through popular social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter or chatroom, these predators would establish contact their intended victims. Once trust has been built up, the online predators would initiate face-to-face meetings to the victims' detriment.
- Educate the users, particularly the young ones, that they should not disclose personal information, details or whereabouts to others.
- Inform them that online contacts may not be whom they claim to be.
- They should not share too much information with others online, especially since they do not know who else might be reading.
- Install parental control software, as well as monitor children's online activities.
- If face-to-face meetings are initiated by the online contacts, they are to inform the parents immediately.
(ii) Online Security
Many Internet users have fallen victim to online crimes, such as online credit card fraud, identity theft and computer virus attacks. The common methods used are hacking (i.e. gaining access to your computer by guessing your passwords or exploiting vulnerabilities in your computer’s connection to the Internet), phishing (i.e. deceiving people into divulging their personal information like passwords and credit card numbers) and the introduction of malicious software (e.g. virus, Trojan horse, spyware, worms and bots) to steal information from your computer.
- Use strong passwords of at least 8 characters containing a mixture of letters, numbers and symbols. Avoid using whole words, names, dates of birth or other personal information that can be easily guessed.
- Do not tell anyone else your passwords. Keep them confidential.
- Delete email messages and attachments from unknown senders.
- Install and update anti-virus and firewall software.
- Regularly update your anti-virus and firewall software.
- Conduct regular virus scans.
Internet users, while uploading information like photographs and video clips, often forget that these can also be publicly accessible. (Despite all the privacy settings, there are always ways to retrieve such data.) Such personal items (e.g. compromising texts and photos) could put the user in trouble if it lands in the wrong hands or spreads widely.
- Educate the users to keep their personal information private. Do not have too much faith in the privacy settings.
- Send such information only to people they can really trust.
- Seek permission from others before sharing their personal information through the online platforms.
This refers to deliberate and intentional attempts to cause physical, emotional or psychological harm to others through the use of the Internet and/or other digital technologies. It can done through online threats, taunting, rumour-mongering and impersonation. The objective of cyber-bullies is to humiliate the victim in front of a large online audience. Given the nature of the Internet, it is often difficult to remove the offending material as well as identify the perpetrator.
- Educate the user on the proper Internet etiquette (i.e. be polite, be responsible in sharing information and be aware of the danger of spreading online rumours)
- If faced with cyber-bullying, the user shold stop all communication with the bullies and report it to the parents, teachers or website administrators.
- If criminal intimidation is involved, the case should be reported to the police for their follow-up.
(v) Online gaming addiction
Given the visual stimulation of online games, many Internet users are attacted to them, sometimes unknowingly spending hours playing them. As these games are highly interactive, they often lose track of time and neglect other important activities. If the situation persists, the users might become lost in the virtual reality world, gradually losing touch with the real world.
- As parents, familiarise yourself with the games that your children are playing.
- Choose age appropriate games for your children.
- Introduce music, arts or sports activities to your children to diversify their interests.
- Educate them to adopt proper time management skills and to play only in moderation.