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How digital literacy keeps us safe online

When you use the internet do you feel safe? Do you know what those cookies do when you accept them? Do you feel protected by the people who give you health information online? And why does this matter to health information at all?

Well, the internet is like a library. Let’s break that down:

The internet, like a library, is a tool. It can be a community, it can be a place, but it remains a tool. People developed this tool as a means and space to share information freely. Digital literacy is when you can navigate this tool, search for and find information from credible sources, and evaluate whether your decisions online are ones that keep you safe.

Before we get into digital literacy for health information, there’s a small but significant distinction I must make. To be digitally literate users also need to be data literate. This means they provide information knowing who’s asking for it, why, and how that information will be stored. Think of digital literacy as knowing how to navigate from home to work. Pretty easy, right? Now data literacy is to whom you want to give your home address and sometimes telling them where the spare key is hidden. That hiding spot isn’t for everyone to know.

And what data are we sharing with the world these days?
  • Our full names

  • Our faces (and bodies) — think summer holiday beach photos

  • Holiday destinations — Goa or Bali, geotagging is a thing

  • Our favourite meal — where you’re eating also features here

  • That god-awful reply from your boss — that you screenshot and shared with your friends on WhatsApp

  • Our loved ones — cute baby photos and major milestones

  • Our favourite books — give away our political leanings

  • Work schedules — cute #friyay photos at 5 pm

  • Our favourite room in the house — full of the feelings and decor we hold dear

Health data is no different. Here are three ways we use the internet to learn about health and stay healthy:

  1. People use the internet as a space to document their health journeys to keep themselves motivated and perhaps to inspire others along the way.

  2. We also share our information with doctors, pharmacists, and health insurance companies to access healthcare services.

  3. We look up or receive health information online through websites, apps, and social media platforms.

Starting to get worried about how much of yourself you share online? Yeah, that’s fair. Siri and Google know a lot more about my life than my own mother sometimes. But such is the way of life — our most private information bleeds its way into the ether and we willingly put it there. After all, are you even a "real" person if you don't have an online presence that someone can go look at?

Digital literacy can help us to stay safe online. With the rise of online health communities and platforms, it’s essential that we’re able to verify the accuracy of information we find online. Digital literacy helps us to assess the accuracy of health-related information and to distinguish between reliable sources and those that may be unreliable.

Medical misinformation is real, and we all experienced it firsthand during Covid-19. To remind yourself and others about staying safe online ask yourself:

1. Is my source credible?

  • Who is saying this? (do they have practical or just theoretical experience? Are they affiliated with a trusted organisation? Do other professionals in the field support them?)

  • When is the information from? (was this information published in the past few months or is it outdated?)

2. What is the agenda behind this information?

  • Why are they saying this?

  • What do they get out of it?

3. Are they asking for my private information?

  • Why?

  • What do they need it for?

4. Have I learned this on my own yet?

  • Have I Googled this information myself?

  • What have I found so far?

  • Does any information out there disagree with my current research?

  • Have I used credible sources to learn about this topic?

Now, even when you do all your research and find credible sources of information there is still a chance that it’s wrong. And when that happens I stop and tell myself that although we know about everything there is to know about the world, there is more we don’t know about the unknown. It may sound silly, or even mildly cult-y at times, but we are still an evolving species and we often develop methods and technologies that we don’t fully understand the capabilities of. Yet.

And that’s okay. What matters is whether we know the basics well enough to evaluate health information that could have a direct impact on our daily lives.

________ x _________

This week has been off to a great but busy start. So this post became a Tuesday read instead of a Monday one.

As a solopreneur I get to be a leader, marketer, writer, editor, designer, and accountant all in one day; and that means despite all my planning, I fall behind schedule sometimes. So, if you’re reading this today, thank you for taking the time. Thank you for staying with me. Your interest means the world to TFQ!

If you want to show your interest in this work (and motivate me to keep this going), please share this post. And if you don't know who to send it to, why not tell me what you think in the comments below?

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