With more people staying at home to socially distance themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic, one expert is warning others to be internet-smart as the use of computers, tablets and phones increases.
Darren Laur is a former police sergeant and owner of The White Hatter, a company committed to internet and social media safety as well as digital literacy. Laur said he believes the biggest risk when it comes to internet use at the moment is misinformation about COVID-19, as well as the opportunity for people to take advantage of others through scams.
In addition, with more children online, Laur said opportunities for sexual predators could increase if internet use is not monitored by parents and adults.
“Are more kids going online? For sure,” Laur said. “But research has show us even before this pandemic hit … when it comes to kids being targeted online on average one in nine – or 11 per cent – of teens up until the age of 16 are targeted by a sexual predator.”
Laur said families should engage with kids, understand what they’re doing online and even join them when online. He noted that older generations have a lot to learn for their children, and the variety of online resources has increased, such as activities that have been made available to the public due to COVID-19 by organizations and agencies like NASA or other museums.
He said social media, which has been blamed in the past for social isolation, is exactly what people are using now to stay connected while social distancing.
“This is a real watershed moment for social media, specifically how we use it as a society.”
However, with increased connection comes increased opportunity for those looking to take advantage of others.
A family that owns a small business approached Laur after being hit with cryptoware. Laur said a cyber criminal encrypted the family’s home network, demanding thousands of dollars.
“This small business is already under huge pressure, financially,” Laur said. “Now there’s added pressure where the criminal element online is taking complete advantage of what’s going on.”
He stressed that for those using the internet, safety isn’t about how much time they’re spending, online but rather what they’re doing online. Teaching kids to find a balance between the online and offline world is important as well, stressing that many can still go outside and enjoy nature while social distancing.
“What’s cool is to see how many corporate vendors are coming on board and providing [online] services for free for families to be productive,” Laur said. “If parents can show a little patience, they will be amazed at what’s going on.”
Through The White Hatter, Laur said he has delivered many talks about internet safety and digital literacy in Canada and the U.S., and plans to soon hold a live talk online for free for adults and families. Those interested can stay posted through their Facebook page, facebook.com/whitehatterteam/.