Digital networks: three barrier gestures to cultivate as a family


Hand of woman presenting in palm media connection concept. 3D rendering

To counter infox, hate speech or online radicalization, many issues are at the level of national and international regulations. Faced with the active circulation of misleading messages or false documents, it is easy to feel helpless, in a situation of stress or pandemic fatigue.

But at the individual level, a certain number of digital barrier gestures can still be put in place at home and help regain control over screens. In a renewed relationship between parents and children, adults and young people, it is a question of having a project, of acquiring good reflexes and of not “confining an idiot”!

The Council of Europe, through its “Digital Citizenship Education” framework program , made up of researchers and practitioners in media and digital education, offers three dimensions of online citizenship: being online , online well-being and knowing how to become online, in full knowledge of their rights and responsibilities .

These dimensions can, metaphorically, be the digital equivalent of the three pandemic barrier gestures: washing hands, wearing a mask and appreciating good distancing. By applying them to the confinement situation, parents and teachers can test them themselves with young people and children, facing the various screens, always balancing opportunities and risks, to keep the curiosity to learn it.

Be online (wash your hands)

Accessing information online can be confusing, even though we were born in the age of connected screens. The “reading, writing and counting” gestures acquired at school are no longer sufficient and are no longer practiced as before – just as washing hands in the midst of a pandemic requires more time and soap.

Thus, reading an article to verify the source does not necessarily mean a linear end-to-end reading, with a search on the name of the author. More dynamic strategies are possible, such as opening multiple tabs, checking URLs (the address of the resource), and crossing information by going to multiple search engines.

It’s interesting that they don’t produce the same results for the same query. Asking the why can lead to great family discussions – because they reflect everyone’s browsing history! It also makes it possible to go through side roads and not stay on the only information highways that are Google, Yahoo! Yandex or Baidu! Going for a walk on Lilo or Ecosia can reveal other unsuspected worlds and do good for the environment.

But writing has also changed and allows for very creative uses, for example thanks to the variety of typefaces. To ensure that you cite your sources correctly and that you do not plagiarize or misinform, inserting hyperlinks, and therefore referring to other texts, is a simple and effective gesture.

Connecting source and destination, allowing navigation between your writing and that of other authors before publishing, these are dynamic strategies, which also show that you know how to navigate between several layers of ideas and contribute online.

The simple fact of searching on the Wikipedia contributory encyclopedia for articles that refer to his immediate universe (his city, his district, his sports team, his cooking recipe …) is a source of inspiration and changes the outlook on knowledge : it is possible to become an “editor” and modify a page , even modestly, or insert an image . Don’t panic, there is a sandbox for training. And this contributes to the information commons …

Online well-being (wear a mask)

For good online hygiene, faced with information disorders such as hate speech, cyberstalking or infox, you have to be capable of ethics and empathy. To be respected online, you have to be respectable yourself. Just as to protect others you have to protect yourself, as the wearing of a mask reminds us: it does not in fact aim to hide but to filter. Online too, you have to know how to filter.

A certain netiquette can be developed in relation to information disorders, in particular to think carefully before liking, posting or retweeting. Some very toxic disinformation is created for the simple purpose of being viral online, on social media. They are there to manipulate emotions, but this is not without consequences for real life, some of which are political and social, such as polarization, the rise of racism or radicalization.

Infox plays on our capacity for empathy, which is an emotional reaction linked to the emotions of others, all the more solicited as this empathy is shared on social networks, and is highly contagious.

While empathy is linked to compassion and can lead to positive engagement for causes, both online and in real life, it can also be manipulated. Research shows that the strongest emotions associated with misinformation are anger and fear. They elicit basic reactions such as withdrawal (for fear) or violence (for anger).

Virality studies show how fake news is amplified over a very short period of time. In addition, the topics covered on unreliable accounts are linked to divisive questions, which validates the role of emotions as a “hot” empathic contagion .

When you have doubts about a piece of information, all kinds of filters are possible. The first filter is not to transmit it, to come back from our emotions, as the Canadian initiative suggests “  take 30 seconds before believing in it”. This gives time for the critical mind to get the hang of it and ask itself the basic questions:

  • Is this account pushing sensational content?
  • Does he regularly denigrate the reference media?
  • Does it amplify hate speech?

Then, if you have time, check it yourself, with online tools like InVID that you can download to your computer. And, if you don’t have the time, go to professional fact checking sites such as factual and true AFP or fake on France info.

But it also allows you to think about your own emotions and cognitive biases. Sharing the times when you have been trapped by fake news allows you to relieve yourself and take stock of your own online habits. This is a timely reminder that our own cognitive biases mislead us.

If information about the coronavirus is sent to you by a friend who says he got it from an uncle who knows someone at the hospital in Wuhan, ask yourself where this itch to believe is coming from: is it a confirmation bias? A halo effect? A continuous influence bias? To play down, you can even have fun doing tests online.

Know how to become online (appreciate the good distance)

These emotional issues have a weight on the construction of the identity of young people and on their online presence. And they’re often underestimated by adults who care about the dangers that worry them first (like cyberstalking). The subjects that preoccupy young people have above all to do with their identity construction and their e-reputation or their online popularity. This is where you have to appreciate the right distance and the right scale of interaction .

Research indicates that basic safety instructions are in fact relatively integrated by young people, and that they know how to protect their privacy. They may be reminded of new strategies, depending on their age. Like going to non-tracking search engines – Qwant junior or DuckDuck go , for example – or adjusting security settings on their social media or deactivating their location – Ghost mode on Snapchat). Facebook is also getting started with Facebook Container, a browser extension that isolates the identity of Facebook and Instagram users in a separate tab, making activity tracking harder to track .

But a passive or reactive attitude is not the only solution. Citizenship presupposes being, at a minimum, informed of the rights and possible remedies. This can involve a real dialogue of trust between adults and adolescents. Reporting (to be distinguished from harmful denunciation) can now be done on a public platform like Pharos where the case will be verified by trusted third parties.

In the context of both disinformation and hate speech, social media and search engines are faced with public service obligations, with laws to be aware of, such as the one relating to the fight against information manipulation.

Managing your time online is crucial, and not just because amplifying disinformation is toxic to democratic societies. Consuming misinformation generates traffic and profit, often at the expense of the uninformed consumer. It is a business model based on the collection and extraction of data that is to be questioned here. It involves keeping users as long as possible on their computers and smartphones.

The choice of information shown to us is as important as the choice of information collected. This online data is gold for many companies who are willing to pay for the market value of user profiles, whether it is to sell them products, services or political opinions, especially during elections or pre-election tracking and targeting are becoming key issues.

Time management involves active participation and creative and contributory writing, such as refutation or counter-argumentation, as suggested by the Cortex site, which offers playful examples to learn how to manage logical errors as well as attacks.

Even if research shows that the fixes do not reach the same audience as the one who consumed the infox or that they are mostly discussed when the subject runs out of steam, this does not prevent contributing and cleaning up the commons. some information. Correct, correct, there will always be something left of it, to divert the famous formula itself diverted from Voltaire.

In front of the digital screen, there is also the good old analog technique of the post-it on the fridge, on which you can stick a little homemade checklist … with digital tools . We can thus forge our little toolbox, not too heavy, but which can be declined as a collective survival kit. To share without moderation.

Author Bio: Divina Frau-Meigs is a Professor of Information and Communication Sciences