Harnessing the internet for good

Grainne looks at both the good and bad sides of the internet to mark Safer Internet Day

Written by Grainne Sexton


I was born in the late nineties, in an era defined by trends such as electronic pop music, a worldwide obsession with Friends and grunge fashion. Sometimes I like to reflect on how the present-day will be remembered. In years to come, what are the factors that will separate and mark out the late noughties as clear-cut and different from the latter decades of the twentieth century? The answer is one-worded: the internet. It occupies a special place in all of our lives, adding an extra dimension that was never part of the make-up of our ancestors. Yet in 2017 a new and ever-growing phenomenon has arisen: the technological way of living.

Since the creation of the World Wide Web in 1989, the internet has become a constantly changing and exhaustingly rapid tool which dominates our world. Take the most obvious example- social media. Smart phones and tablets have evolved into arm extensions, providing endless photos, updates and news stories to gorge on. We spend the majority of our days immersed in the lives of others and, in the process, lose our own sense of self.

Don’t get me wrong, social media is an unbelievable invention. It allows us to chat with friends and family across the globe and discover events taking place in our local area and peruse a wide range of literature on every topic imaginable. However it is undeniable that “social” media has a side which can also make it the loneliest place on earth. As our peers upload heavily edited photos and we re-watch Snapchat stories showcasing the seemingly “perfect” lives of others, anxiety and low self-esteem tend to bubble to the surface. Despite the friendship networks offered by social media sites, it is easy to feel disconnected and alone whilst absorbed in a bubble in which everyone shows only their best bits.

Sometimes that social media bubble becomes an ambush, a place we feel hunted and afraid. A scathing comment, a nasty message or incessant indirect tweets- these are only some of the ways in which cyberbullies rear their heads. The keyboard offers people a suit of armour to hide behind as they type torrents of abuse. Coupled with receiving friend requests from people we’ve never seen or spoken to, a constant spew of negative news and the cruel commentary which online bullies thrive upon; the internet can be hard to handle.

In the past, bullies could be left in school and home was a place of refuge, however social media is a 24/7 distraction that pervades every aspect of life- giving cyberbullies access to their victims at any hour of the day. Therefore is increasingly important that we know how to navigate the online minefield and allow it to enhance rather than hinder our lives.

Although the internet has given rise to a suffocating number of social media platforms, cruel cyberbullies and “trolls”- it is undoubtedly the one tool which can be used most effectively to harness change. Excuse the cliché but knowledge truly is power and the internet is an educational facility that is unmatched in its abilities to provide up to date information from a variety of different sources.

We can research college courses, watch current affairs unfolding by the second, sign petitions, shop any trend we want, spontaneously book flights or make donations to charity. The list is endless. Perhaps most importantly of all is the ethos which underscore the very foundation of the internet and that is unification. Despite it sometimes being harsh and disorientating, the online universe brings humankind together. Through the World Wide Web, we connect and contribute to one another’s lives: demanding social justice, spreading the word about important issues, having banter in group chats, sharing snippets of our lives with others and, in this way, exposing our vulnerability just a little.

Therefore the theme for this year’s Safer Internet Day, taking place on the 7th of February, is apt: “Be the change: Unite for a better internet”. In the age of communication culture, it is not too difficult to unite with others for a common cause. Like any space we inhabit, the internet should be a safe and healthy environment for everyone and there are a myriad of ways to make your online world one that promotes positivity.

5 Tips on making sure your online experience is a good one

  1. Filter friends on social media, take note of who you know and have actually spoken to, the people you don’t mind seeing your photos and statuses, then unfollow anyone who doesn’t match this criteria.
  2. Keep the eternal “stranger danger” slogan in mind and be wary before accepting friendship requests from people you haven’t met in real life. Get clued in on the privacy settings on each social media site and set your profile so that it can be viewed only by those you’ve authorised.
  3. Remember that cyberbullies are no different from any other bully, be defiant and call them out on their actions by immediately informing a parent, teacher or trusted friend about any incident which makes you upset or uncomfortable.
  4. Online it is easy to become whoever we want and distort reality by uploading a version of our lives that is carefully curated. However authenticity is a thousand times better than falsity- delete the editing apps used to smooth or brighten photos and accept that flaws are what make us wonderfully imperfect.
  5. Recognise the positive power of the internet. Read uplifting news stories, learn a new skill or raise awareness of an issue which is meaningful to you. Most importantly of all, keep in mind that an online persona do not measure worth, achievements or intelligence. Like many aspects of life, the internet can be either a force for good or a force for evil- every one of us has the responsibility to make it the best place possible for all to enjoy.

Check out SpunOut's Online Safety Hub

Our work is supported by