Have We, the Millennial Generation Digitally Failed Our Parents?
Digital misinformation is the talk of the town. With the recent difference in the approach shown by the two biggest social media platforms on tackling this, we don’t have to look far in history to see how pivotal & influential social media is and also the impact it can have. Does anyone remember the Brexit referendum? But for those of us who grew up on Limewire and dubious popups, we have been conditioned to see that all that glitters on the internet is not gold. It was our first lesson into cybersecurity, but unfortunately, we have not been passing these lessons on as well as we can.
The Digital Generation Gap
Nominet UK, the Official registry for UK domain names in 2017 carried out research on the impact of the digital generational gap. The research found that digital savviness also decreased with age, highlighting a generational digital skills gap. It found that whilst 64% of millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are digitally savvy, only 46% of Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980) are. This then drops to 34% for Gen Z (born 1997 onwards), 23% of baby boomers (born between 1946 to 1964) and 15% of the pre-war generation (born 1945 and earlier).
With the use of the internet not slowing down, we are now seeing more people get connected with internet penetration rates also increasing. This is also causing a rise in cybercrime. As the world turned remote and digital during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was also an increase in cybercrime, according to The UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) who released an advisory alongside the US Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on the exploitation of coronavirus (COVID-19) by cybercriminals.
What does digital misinformation look like?
Digital misinformation on social media has become very difficult to manage for social media companies. We recently saw the effects of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in regards to Russia & Brexit and also the complexity of policing information regarding elections. But let’s look closer to home, within our own families, we all have that one aunt or uncle who forwards anything and everything they receive. This increased tenfold during the pandemic as information about coronavirus, actions by governments and also an increase in pyramid schemes as people are looking for additional ways to earn an income during the lockdown.
The Pyramid Scheme Returns
Over the years, different family members have sent over business ideas they have come across, and for a small Zoom session and one-time joining fee, I too will be making serious money. They somehow can’t explain how I will make the money, but as they’ve already paid the joining fee, they now need to recruit others into the scheme to ensure the whole family eats. Bless them, the heart is in the right place. But as a cybersecurity professional, the first thing I do is Google the venture, who is the company? Do they have a website? What happens when you Google their name + ‘scam’? This is a process I have been taking family members through, the “Don’t forward messages” approach is failing, as well more often they are receiving these messages from friends, colleagues and people they trust. You can’t doubt Aunty Mavis and Uncle Tapiwa when they promise you riches right?
When you receive these kinds of messages, helping guide family members into how to research will go a long away. It is most likely always too late when the message reaches you as they may already be part of the scheme, but in recent times we have started seeing Governments taking this seriously. Recently I received another business opportunity I could not miss, but a quick Google search was able to let me know that Namibia had banned the ‘get rich quick scheme’ Crowd1 due to it being a scam. Unfortunately for us millennials, this is just a snapshot of the messages we receive. If we look at Facebook's recent stance and refusal in having a position on misinformation, it is concerning as our the older generations main social network seems to be Facebook products.
Corona Recipe — As per The Scientific Institute of Whatsapp
During this pandemic, we have seen recipe after recipe of what we needed to boil to rid of COVID-19. It could range from lemon and ginger, a great herbal remedy to clear sinuses to find already hard to source herbs and mixing them with mango leaves. Unfortunately, cybercriminals did take advantage of this with a rise in ‘herbal’ remedies then being offered for sale, with a church in London also partaking in selling a “cure”. This kind of misinformation can once again be hard to combat, with no prospect of a cure and the lack of direction shown by a certain Government, it would’ve been hard to convince others not to seek remedies elsewhere. As a Zimbabwean, I know this battle very well. Our culture has homemade remedies that have been passed down generations for years, and as such, prevalent amongst Facebook groups were different iterations of these remedies passed around.
But what can we do as millennials?
Knowledge sharing is one important way to help bridge this knowledge gap. It can often be a difficult and frustrating road, but it’s the way forward. Social media platforms should be doing more! Twitter has taken the stance to label Trump's tweets but for those outside of America with their own dictators to be wary of, we need more fact-checking services and easier methods to report what potentially is harmful information. As millennials, the 3 steps below are some that have worked for me when helping those who are still learning on their internet journey:
- Don’t forward chain messages until you verify the information is accurate. Google first and find a reputable website confirming this before spreading.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a pyramid scheme.
- YouTube helps. There are videos explaining almost everything.
There is an African saying, it takes a village to raise a child. And this applies even to us when we didn’t know anything they raised us. And it’s time to return the favour, digitally.