Since the Internet is a slightly peculiar medium, we will try to understand it without the five key questions framework. That doesn’t mean, however, that the five key questions do not apply to messages found on the internet. They very much do and will certainly help you understand any message much better.
The reason we don’t apply the framework here is that apart from understanding individual messages, there is a lot more that requires our attention, when we traverse the online world.
That’s because the internet offers us a lot more agency and a lot more participation. It is the interactive nature of the internet that sets it apart.
We can share stuff with others. We can participate, though virtually, in other people’s lives. And we can react, in an instant, to anything that makes a mark on us: on the internet and off it. And we can broadcast it to the whole wide world.
That is the internet’s distinguishing feature. And that is also where the danger lies. The seemingly impersonal nature of they internet makes many of us drop our guard. We aren’t concerned about how safe an activity is or how we may be giving the world access to more information than we usually would to strangers.
Digital Literacy then is also about ensuring your safety and privacy. And that is what our focus will be.
But before we even begin, just do the following.
Take a minute and google yourself.
To even begin taking control of your safety and privacy online, you first need to know what information about you is available to potential criminals at the click of a button.
See what information is publicly available and accessible.
Try different combinations of your name to google to see if different information crops up.
These are some combinations you can try:
1. First name last name
2. First name Middle name Last name
3. Last name, First name
So are you comfortable with such information about you being available to anyone?
If not, delete whatever it is that you find embarrassing or compromising. If it is a social media post, you can do this yourself.
You may even have to request a friend to take off some content such as a photo you were tagged in. Or you may even have to write to a particular website that hosts information about you that you do not to be public anymore.
You can write to google too. But unless that information is found to be violating its policies, google may not delete it.
There are some things, however, that are most certainly in your control.
The first of these is your passwords.
And the first rule of passwords is this: Never use the same password for all your accounts.
In the event that one of your accounts is compromised, all your accounts will be at risk.
Never use any information about you that is publicly available as your password: meaning it can’t be your pet’s name, it can’t be your birthdate, address or your favourite past-time.
Remember, this is information that you may have, knowingly or unknowingly, shared on some social networking site. And it may be one of the first guesses made by people trying to hack into your account.
And do not share your password with anybody else. You may never be able to detect the trail it followed before reaching a criminal.
For a strong password, always use a combination of small letters, capital letters numeral and special characters.
Don’t write your password down in a place where it can be easily found by others. Save it on a computer file, an encrypted file if possible. An encrypted file is one that has plain text converted into a code that cannot be easily read by anyone not authorized to have access to it.
Some people use software such as lastpass to help them remember their passwords. To ensure that the password they are using is strong, they use a password generator.
YOUR PUBLIC PERSONA
How you present yourselves online will determine how you are received and how people approach you and interact with you.
Won’t your reaction to hungryforblood or crazyoldman, for example, be different than your reaction to someone who calls himself averagejoe?
Similarly, the kind of pictures you choose to share, the kind of opinions you express and the language you use to express them—all have a bearing on your online identity. You may not want a potential employer to see your tweet badmouthing your present employer. You may not want all your acquaintances to know how you spent last weekend.
Want a good rule of thumb to avoid any such embarrassments?
Never share anything that you would not be comfortable sharing with a room full of people.
If you are not comfortable saying something or showing something to people physically, there is every chance you may not want to share it with others virtually.
YOUR PRIVACY SETTINGS
If all your social networking accounts use the default privacy settings, you need to move now.
Did you know that the default privacy setting for Facebook is public?
This means that whatever you post on Facebook will be there for the entire world to see unless you choose otherwise.
For any social networking site you join, always check their privacy settings and select public only for those things that you don’t mind being in the public domain. Whatever it is that you want to share with friends only, you must make it visible only to friends.
This may seem like a tedious and boring task but it’s important to know how much your information is valued. Your details could be given away to other companies without your knowledge or approval.
You may have often heard the term cookies when people who know a little bit of computers discuss programmes and websites. Do you know what the term ‘cookies’ here refers to?
Cookies are small text files that travel back and forth between the server—the place from where all the date and information you need while browsing is stored—and the browser—the place where your internet activity takes form.
These text files make your surfing smoother. They help remember your preferences so you don’t have to set them every time. So for example, if for your google account you have kept the safe search on, every time you log in, it is with the help of cookies that google remembers this. Safe search is when you specify that you do not want any adult content to show up in your searches.
There is also something called third party cookies. Generally, these are used by advertisers. They collect and remember data about your surfing habits and then, based on that, give you more ads that they say are more relevant. So for example, you may have looked up a comparison between two budget smartphones. And soon enough, you will be greeted by an ad for some budget smartphone when checking your mail.
Now, if you are not comfortable with such information being collected, you can change the cookie settings of your browser. But do remember that disabling all cookie may make surfing slightly cumbersome.
Because of the impersonal nature of the internet, we never imagine the kind of security threats that lurk around the corner. There are threats to us from potential criminals and there are threats to our data.
One of the most basic things you can do to protect your data, is get an anti-virus software installed. Think of it like shutting the door of your house even when you are inside it.
Now, there are a lot of anti-virus softwares available and you may be confused about which one to get for yourself.
The key is to get one that suits your needs. You can figure that out by taking these steps:
Read independent reviews of the software. See what people are saying and whether they have been happy with the products, and what the general complaints are.
Check for the features that the software offers. Some may offer file encryption for example while others may not.
Also get an idea of the customer service. Once you buy a product, how easy or difficult will it be to follow up with your questions and concerns.
Get a free trial of the software to see how it works. During the free trial period, use only one software at a time to adequately understand how well it performs its functions.
Be careful when you browse. Just as not all streets of your city are equally safe to drive on, similarly, there are some sites that may be more safe than the others.
How do you ensure you are being careful?
Always check whether the site you are on is secure. A website that is secure begins with an https as opposed to an http.
Your browser will also indicate whether or not a site is secure by using a padlock symbol. The padlock indicates a site is safe to surf.
You can also check whether or not a website has an SSL certificate. SSL certification indicates that data being transmitted and sent is encrypted. This is particularly important for financial transactions.
Beware of phishing
Phishing, as we have seen in the introduction video, is any attempt to get you to share your bank details.
Sometimes you are sent text messages that tell you have won a lottery. If you respond to such messages, either your bank acount details are asked for or you are asked to deposit a certain amountiof money as some sort of processing fee. And there. You are duped.
The process is not very different with mails. Most times, a very authentic looking email is sent bearing the name of your bank. You are then asked to furnish details such as your PIN, account number or password on some pretext such as offering a new service.
And sometimes, you are asked for monetary help by telling you some fantastical story abut some lottery money that needs to be kept safely.
The crucial thing to remember is that you should never share details of your bank account number in response to such emails. Also, never click on the links provided in such mails. You never know where they might take you.
If you want to visit the bank website just to check, always type out the address of the site yourself. Never click on the link.
If in spite checking the website you are not convinced and want to know whether or not the bank is looking for such information, always call the bank to confirm.
Digital literacy is often defined as the ability to analyse and evaluate the content that is available on the internet, in all formats. This means being able to understand the information available online. It means being able to decide what value or significance that has for you. And it means understanding how that piece of information affects you.
This information can be available as text, an audio file, a video file or something that is a combination of some or all.
So for example, how reliable is the information about the local bandh that you get on Twitter? Is it really your favourite film star from that clip that is doing the rounds of the internet, apparently showing he was involved in some brawl?
But we are forgetting a very important thing. What sets the internet apart from other media such as print and broadcast? It is just how interactive the internet can be.
Let us look at a few of the common terms you may come across when dealing with online safety and privacy:
Malware is any malicious software that dmages your computer. This includes:
As per the Microsoft safety and security centre, a virus is a small software that spreads from computer to computer, and self-replicates. It interferes with your computer operation—it can corrupt or delete files or even delete data from your hard disk.
This is software that spies on you and your browsing activity: to figure out your preferences. This is generally done without acquiring your consent and such software is usually associated with delivering ‘relevant ads’ to you.
A programme that appears harmless but corrupts or deletes your data. Unlike a virus, it does not self-replicate.
Phishing is any attempt to get you to divulge your bank details such as your account number, password and PIN and then stealing money.
Pharming is when a site’s traffic is directed to a bogus site, which may try to get your personal details.
An avatar is an online identity you can create if you are wary of sharing details about yourself with the world.
You can also avail of services from __________________________________________________________________________________
WHAT IS DIGITAL LITERACY
Digital literacy is the ability to access, evaluate, analyse and create digital information. In other words, it is the ability to find, understand, use, evaluate and create digital content.
Digital literacy is also about knowing just how the digital world works, what it includes and the special precautions this special world calls for from us—its informed users.
BUT WHAT DOES DIGITAL MEAN?
There are two ways of looking at the word ‘digital’.
First, digital refers to a mode of transmission. It is used in contrast with analogue. While analogue transmission uses a continuously variable physical quantity such as spatial position, voltage, etc. to transmit audio and video, digital transmission uses number series of 1 and 0 to do this.
But more popularly, the word ‘digital’ is also used to refer to anything to do with computers and the internet. And this is the meaning that we are mostly concerned with here.
SO WHAT DOES DIGITAL LITERACY MEAN IN PRACTICE?
So, digital literacy refers to the ability to find information online. It refers to the ability to understand and evaluate that information—where it comes from and what that might mean. It also refers to the ability to create content that can be used and shared online.
Please note, that information here could mean plain text in blogs, emails, and newsletters. It could mean multimedia information such as news podcasts or music videos. It could mean use of photos in a language that is spoken and understood online. It could mean knowing how to use, or having the ability to learn to use, the myriad social platforms available.
But it’s not just about being able to use all this. It is about making meaningful use of it. It is about making choices that will best serve our needs when we navigate in this digital world. And that is only possible, once we try to explore the fundamentals of what is on offer.
THE THREE COMPONENTS OF DIGITAL LITERACY
So digital literacy really has three components:
- Ability to use computers and digital media
- Adequate knowledge of computer and digital nuts and bolts to choose what best serves your needs
- Critical evaluation of all digital content you consume
NUTS AND BOLTS OF THE INTERNET
WHAT IS THE INTERNET?
The internet is nothing but a network of computers. Only, it connects computers across the world giving us what we call the world wide web.
If you think about it, the word internet really refers to a piece of infrastructure. It refers to the wires and cables, and routers and servers that enable us to exchange messages and data from one computer to any other computer in the world, as long as it is connected to this network.
But just as any two people need to know a common language for any successful and meaningful communication, so do computers connected to the internet. Majorly, there are four levels of communication control that make this happen—each called a protocol.
This is broadly what happens at every communication layer:
But for this, the computers need to be able to identify each other correctly. That is done using something called the IP address. Every device connected to the internet has an IP address. This could be a computer, a server (which is just a type of computer), a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone.
Similarly, every website on the internet also has an IP address. An IP address usually looks like this: 184.108.40.206
But since 220.127.116.11 may not always be easy to remember every time you have to visit google.com, websites also have domain names. (FYI, google.com is the domain name.)
Now how does your computer know which IP address corresponds to which domain name? It does this with the use of its phone directory called DNS i.e. Domain Name Server.
So the internet is a network. But what makes up this network? As in any communication, there is a sender of data and there is a receiver of data.
The sender is usually called the server. So any computer which has any data that is being sent across to another computer acts as a server. It could be a computer that is hosting an entire website such as google.com. Or it could merely be your computer when you select a photo you may want to share via email.
The receiver is called the client.
Now how does this transmission of data from the server computer to the client computer actually work?
As we said previously, computers communicate in four layers of protocol. At one of those layers, the TCP layer, all data is broken down into smaller parts, each called a ‘packet’. Each packet has a TCP code.
Once this data passes the layer of the ISP, all packets may take different routes to reach the destination computer. Once there, based on the TCP code, they are reassembled into the entire message that was sent.
BUT HOW DOES YOUR COMPUTER CONNECT TO THIS NETWORK?
Your computer connects to the internet through a modem. It is the modem that converts digital messages from your computer to electric signals that can be transmitted through the phone or cable line, depending on your connection type.
But one modem can only connect one computer to the internet at a time. So if there is more than one device in your household that needs to be connected to the internet, you need a router. A router connects all the devices into one network and then this network in turn has access to the internet through the modem.
Any such network of computers that is restricted to a small area is called a Local Area Network (LAN) and when this spread over to a wider area, we call that WAN. The internet, thus, is a WAN.
Please note that a router can also be used merely to form a network of computers that may not be connected to a modem and hence the internet.
TYPES OF INTERNET CONNECTIONS
- Dial up
This type of internet connection uses the phone line and requires a landline connection. That’s because connection to the internet is made through an actual phone call. Since this is the slowest kind of connection available, a dial-up service is not recommended unless it is the only option available (CHECK).
With this kind of connection, unless you have more than one landline, the phone and the internet cannot be used simultaneously.
While this broadband connection type is also made through a phone cable, it does not require a landline. While it is faster than a dial-up, it may not be as easily available.
This connects via Cable TV though you do not need to have a Cable TV. Though for this type of broadband service to be available, your area needs to have Cable TV. It is faster than both dial-up and DSL.
This uses satellites orbiting the earth to connect and hence can be used from anywhere in the world. It is however impacted by weather conditions. Since it delivers data after a slight delay, it may not be the best option for any real-time tasks such as video-conferencing.
- 2 G, 3 G and 4 G
Used for devices such as tablets and smartphones, these connection types do not require any cables but are routed through the Internet Service Provider network.