First came the campaigns to get  “silver surfers” using web. Then we focussed on children getting a good digital education for their future careers. In a post last year I claimed it was just as important that parents didn’t get left behind in this push for digital literacy.

It’s assumed that Generation Y/Millennials know what they’re doing with technology, as they’ve been using it for some time at home and in the workplace. But my experience as a parent, adult, IT professional and son, tell me a different story. I don’t even have to go far to prove it.

I just open my browser and log into Facebook. There I see my friends, many of whom are my own age. Many have children, most have parents, some of which have joined Facebook to keep in touch and share photos. It’s great.

But it’s also bad. It’s an issue of safety, security and privacy, and usually it involves sharing.

“It looked true so I shared it, what’s the harm?”

Here are two examples:

“If you are having a heart attack alone, you should vigorously and repeatedly cough, it’ll keep you alive.”

You share this useful information thinking you’re doing a good deed. On the day someone suspects they are having a heart attack, they recall the information you shared.

Congratulations – You just committed manslaughter. It turns out, with the quickest of searches that this Cough CPR claim is false, and could result in the death of the person.

“Tesco are offering free vouchers to spend in their stores.”
“We are giving away 500 iPads”
“Disney are giving away a free holiday at Disneyworld”

Take your pick. All you have to do is like and share the post/page for your chance to win. Your friends and family see you’ve done this and follow suit. Soon the too-good-to-be-true offer has thousands of people on their page.

You forget all about it. At some point an odd post appears on your wall, offering a fantastic deal. All you need to do is click on a link and enter your details to enter into the draw. Maybe you get suspicious at this point – you even unlike the page, finally dawning that it might be a bit dodgy. But would your friends and family do likewise, or did they give away their personal details to a page owner that has fraud in mind?

Congratulations, you just helped someone perform a long-con on your friends and family.

Still, what’s the harm?

What can we do to solve it?

It starts with education. People need to be aware that this kind of thing exists. “Not everything you read on the internet is true”, as Abraham Lincoln once said.

Even if a friend posts something, your default position should always be “This probably isn’t true”. Start with the belief that it isn’t true, and only post once you confirm it IS true. Why? because of the above – Sharing bad information DOES cause harm.

For example, the like scam in the second example above, there are a number of useful websites that tell you how to identify a facebook like scam.  Read it, learn to spot the signs. Some are harder than others to spot, but for the most part there’s almost always a tell-tale sign.

You need to be able to apply critical thinking and decide for yourself if something is legitimate or not, don’t rely on friends or family to screen it.

Perhaps there are nicer ways, but I think the best way to get the message across, a bit like those road safety campaigns, is to scare people.

Just a couple of random ideas:

  1. Create ethical honey trap Facebook pages and emails. Entice users to like and share an offer that seems too good to be true. Upon them filling in their details, it reveals itself to be a “scam”, in an attempt to shock the user into taking more care.
  2. A website that shows examples and concepts of the above common problems, and how to avoid them.

I’ve no doubt that some of these ideas already exist. It’s about getting it in front of as many parents/digital natives as possible. The challenge with the second idea is that users are unlikely to voluntarily educate themselves when they don’t realise they have a problem. The “nastier” idea is actually one that is more likely to reach more people and have the biggest impact.

But we need to stamp home how important it is to recognise these scams because it benefits not just them but their friends and family, too.

As a parent with young children, chances are that you are an example to follow for both your children and your own parents.

Consider their online education as important as teaching standard values of morality, ethics, conduct, good manners. The Web isn’t separate to real life and the sooner you and your children realise this the better.

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