The Internet is a complicated place and as it constantly changes, it gets more complicated.
A few years ago, a six-digit password was secure. Then you were encouraged to make longer passwords and give sites your cell-phone number as a backup. Today, two-step-authentication is standard.
But while my generation has grown up with the Internet evolving, young people today are entering a world where their entire lives will be moderated by the net and digital communication, without the benefit of acclimatizing. Meanwhile, our education system relies heavily on fear tactics and prohibitions in the name of online safety.
The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), a mostly American organization funded by government and industry, takes a different approach. At their two campaign sites – stopthinkconnect.org and staysafeonline.org – the NCSA guides users to “stop, think and connect”. Although they’ve been educating students, parents and the public for years, last month, together with the GLBTQ* Technology Partnership, the NCSA launched a “stop, think, connect” campaign specifically directed at the queer community. The idea is to reach out to groups that either make more use of the Internet, or are potentially more vulnerable online.
As NCSA CEO Michael Kaiser explains, “A lot of different interests – individual, business, government – are threatened when the Internet is not a safe and trusted platform.”Rather than suggesting that parents not let their kids online, or not let their kids use Facebook or other social media, the campaign is about smart and educated online citizenship.
Kaiser compared opening up the Internet to young people to driving a car. “We don’t just stick a kid in the drivers’ seat and tell them to have fun. It’s a balance.” But, he says we aren’t doing a good enough job teaching smart online use in schools.
This new partnership (which can be found at http://goo.gl/nVTm0) is especially important for GLBTQ* youth (and GLBTQ* people in general). Privacy and security are important for everyone who uses the Internet, but privacy in particular is fundamental for GLBTQ* youth online, many of whom may not be out to their parents.
That’s where education comes in. The purpose of the campaign is to give “netizens” the tools they need to use the Internet safely, highlighting aspects of safety and security that most users may overlook. Especially when we’re concerned with GLBTQ* youth, the goal of the campaign is to give young people tools so that parents can feel comfortable letting go. As Kaiser pointed out, “You don’t hold your kid’s hand to cross the street when they’re teenagers.”
Too many of us – regular users, occasional users and new users of all ages – treat the Internet like a bunch of silos. The veil that separates everyone from their online “neighbours” leads to laziness and lapses in personal security. Would you ever leave your house door unlocked when you’re not at home? Of course not – yet that’s what millions of Internet users do every day when they use easy-to-hack passwords like “abc123” or their own name. The “stop, think, connect and the GLBTQ* Technology Partnership want to change that. It’s a cause worth supporting.
The Internet can be a scary place, but only if we treat it like an unknowable beast. With the right tools, everyone will benefit.
– Corey Shefman is a geek, and proud of it.
The GLBT Q* Technology Partnership and the National Cyber Security Alliance advise everyone to take the following steps to protect your online identity.