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Digital Wellness 101: Taking Control of Your Life Online

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If you’re reading this, chances are that around the year you were born, the latest in mobile technology was a Nokia 5190. Make calls! Send texts! Play Snake! What more could you want?

And AOL Instant Messenger was the cutting edge way to catch up with friends, share vague but meaningful song lyrics, or send a custom ‘smiley’ to a crush before emoji were a thing.

Since then, things have changed a bit. If you’re like most Huskies your age, you spend half – or more – of your day online. You check your phone over 150 times a day, and use the Internet for everything from ordering lunch to learning a new language to tracking your workout to streaming the news to submitting your final paper to keeping up with friends to planning meetups with your study group to finding a date for Thursday night.

Technology is amazing. It’s made possible incredible advances in communications, medicine, architecture, business, transportation and safety. It has asked and answered new questions about access and opportunity, elevated new perspectives, closed distances between friends.

…and we care about your health and safety when using it. The technologies that have transformed our daily lives also present some serious risk factors that can keep you from making the most of your experience at UW. In a world that feels like it’s constantly ‘on’, it’s no surprise that college students navigating the demands of life on campus and online are more likely to experience fatigue, anxiety, stress and depression. Studies show that they feel more pressure than ever to be academically and socially successful, to have an Instagram-worthy vacation/dinner/body/Tuesday, to be constantly connected and available to friends, parents and bosses. Depending on how much time you spend online, whether on social media, browsing comments, checking your device or studying, you might also be at risk of other health problems, hacking, harassment – or worse.

With that in mind, the Division of Student Life has come together with our campus partners to create this toolkit to help you reboot your digital wellness. Take a few minutes to find out how your digital lifestyle may be affecting your academic and personal success – in some very surprising ways – and learn simple strategies you can use to cut through the noise, use media more mindfully and get a lot more enjoyment out of your life – online and IRL.

Social Media & Your Mood

Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes or alchohol…so what does it do to your mood? Here’s what the research tells us…

While using social networks helps many people feel more connected to peers, more free in their self-expression, and more aware of others’ experiences, others experience intense envy and may have greater struggles with depression, low self-worth and other mental health challenges.

  • Research has found a direct link between social media use and mood disorders like anxiety and depression, but acknowledges that the relationship is complex and bi-directional
  • Increasing amounts of Facebook use among first-year college students have been associated with higher levels of loneliness
  • With 90% of college-aged students comparing themselves with peers within 15 minutes of waking up, social media sites set many people up for negative self perception before they even get out of bed.
  • In a survey of 1,500 young adults on the impact of social media on issues such as anxiety, depression, self-identity and body image, YouTube was found to have the most positive impact, while Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter all demonstrated negative effects overall on young people’s mental health.

Social Media & Body Image

If you’ve ever walked away from time on social media feeling more flawed, less interesting, or less well-liked than your peers, you’re far from alone.

When looking at social media, it’s easy to forget that a lot of thought has gone into curating one’s identity, which can be a set up for negative self-comparison. While most of us have come to expect that pictures of famous people – celebrities, athletes, models – have been digitally touched-up, it’s easy to forget that friends and acquaintances have access to some of those same tools. This can leave us vulnerable to physical comparisons and primed to feel inadequate or unhappy.

7 in 10 college women and more than 5 in 10 college men who post photos on social media admit to touching them up first. Nearly half who edit pictures of themselves enhance their looks by removing blemishes or adding color to look less pale. Approximately 1 in 8 admit to editing because they aren’t happy with how they look in general, while about 6% edit to make themselves look thinner.

Those who more frequently edit photos of themselves before posting report greater degrees of body dissatisfaction, eating concerns, and dieting behaviors.

In 2016, a study of 50 “fitspiration” websites revealed messaging that was often indistinguishable from pro-anorexia or “thinspiration” sites. The strong language both types of sites used was shown to induce guilt about weight or the body, and promote dieting, restraint, and the stigmatization of all but a narrow range of body types.

And of course, comparisons aren’t limited to attractiveness. As the New York Times noted earlier this year, while we know that “everybody else can’t possibly be as successful, rich, attractive, relaxed, intellectual and joyous as they appear to be on Facebook,” our friends’ posts tell another story. It’s hard to resist the pull of accounts that seem so believable, but don’t let social media make you miserable.

When you are struggling with balancing exams, hobbies and a social life, it seems like everyone else is #Blessed, able to #LiveAuthentic and find more #Fitspiration than the rest of us…but the truth is, the data suggest that they’re probably struggling too. Read on to learn how you can learn to live more mindfully with social media.

How can you be more mindful with social media?

By using a few simple strategies, you may be able to reduce the negative emotions and compulsive behaviors associated with social media use, and find ways to enjoy it more fully:

  • Before you post, know your intentions. Are you looking for appreciation, inclusion, approval, reassurance? Or maybe something else? If you’re looking to be seen or validated, ask yourself, “Is there something more constructive I could do to meet that need?”
  • Limit the time you spend on social media each day. Research shows that people who spend more than two hours per day on social media have significantly lower self-esteem than those who don’t.
  • Be curious about the stories your mind makes up as you scroll. When something comes up, ask yourself if it’s helpful for you to believe that story. Is it helpful for you to think you’re not good enough? Is it helpful for you to judge that other person’s choices or life, or to compare your life to theirs?
  • If you notice that you’re struggling a lot with envy or comparison, counseling can help! Support is available at no cost through the UW Counseling Center and Hall Health Mental Health Clinic. If you’re not sure if counseling is for you, you can also check out the popular Let’s Talk Program held at several convenient campus locations.
  • Finally, if you need a laugh after all this, check out @SocalityBarbie or @CelesteBarber‘s on point Instagram parodies of the curated way we tend to represent ourselves online.

Use a site or mobile app such as Tinder, Match, OKCupid, Grindr or Coffee Meets Bagel?

Over the last few years, more college students – 1 in 3 – are using online dating sites and apps as a way to find friends, dating relationships or hookups. While many of the have positive experiences, safety and privacy are common concerns. 45% of people who look for a date online agree it’s a more dangerous way of meeting people than alternatives, so learn how to protect yourself with these tips for safe(r) online dating!

What’s at Risk?

  • Your personal safety when meeting someone in person who you met online
  • People masquerading as someone else, spam, and other types of fraud
  • Photo or video blackmail, where fraudsters use images or video you have shared with them, or recordings of live chat sessions that may depict sexual behavior or other private material, to extort money
  • Phishing emails claiming to be from an online dating site and encouraging you to divulge personal information
  • Potential theft of your money if you do not use a secure link when making payments
  • Stalking, harassment and coercive control

Learn to recognize technology-enabled coercive control

Abusers may use various technologies such as call and text records on your cell phone, GPS, social and dating sites and other digital ‘footprints’ to stalk, harass, spy or eavesdrop on, and control someone they are currently romantically and/or sexually involved with, an ex, or a romantic interest whose feelings don’t match their own. The goal of the abuser may be controlling a survivor, isolating them from friends and family, or damaging their credibility, work or social life, or deterring the victim’s other prospective partner(s).

If you or someone you know think you may be experiencing harassment or abuse using technology, learn how to document what is happening and contact UW’s Health & Wellness office, whose experienced staff can assist those who are worried about the possible abuse or harassment of themselves or someone they know.

Other tips you may find helpful while looking for a date or hookup online

  • Limit the personal data you reveal
  • Look for red flags in potential ‘matches’
  • Check for mutual friends on social media
  • Meet in a public place
  • Talk before the date
  • Tell someone about your plans and where you’ll be
  • Be selective in choosing a user name so that you don’t inadvertently reveal personal details such as your address
  • Reach out for support from friends, family or others you trust if you need it at any point in the process
  • Trust your instincts

For more information on this topic, check out these resources on technology-facilitated abuse and a few ideas from The Daily about safe(r) online dating practices.

Real Talk about Doxing and Swatting

Since you were a kid, you’ve heard plenty of reasons why you think about your online privacy and be cautious about the information you put “out there”, but if you’re like most Americans, doxing and swatting haven’t been on your radar until the past few years, if at all.

The following section on doxing is from an infographic originally produced here at HTML.com.

What is doxing?

Michelle Obama, Donald Trump and even Beyoncé have all been victims of ‘doxing’. But what is doxing? Is it legal? And can it be dangerous?

Short for “dropping docs”, it was a revenge tactic among hackers in the 1990s that involved breaching someone’s personal data and publishing it on the web, attracting unsolicited harassment. Today, it refers to the practice of revealing identifying information about someone else — such as their full or real name, home address, phone number, social security number or other details — generally in order to take revenge, to “out” an anonymous poster, or to otherwise cause harm. Hackers can access your personal information in various places online:

  • Social media
  • Blogs
  • Old websites
  • Forums and web discussions
  • Online games

A dox typically includes such items as a user’s name, social security numbers, phone numbers, personal photographs, address, credit card and banking information and/or social networking profiles.

Who’s been doxed?

Example 1: Top level members of the Church of Scientology

What happened? Hacktivists from Anonymous leaked internal memos and personal details of senior church members.

Example 2: Scooby’s Workshop, a YouTube workout guru with 350,000 followers.

What happened? Scooby’s home and work addresses were released, threatening his family’s safety. This forced him to remove public profiles.

Example 3: Michelle Obama – you know, the former First Lady

What happened? Exposed.su hackers published her SSN, past phone numbers and credit report.

Exposed.su have also doxed: Donald Trump, Jay-Z, Kim Kardashian, Mel Gibson, Ashton Kutcher, Sarah Palin, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Beyoncé, Attorney General Eric Holder, Hulk Hogan, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, Britney Spears, Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton.

Is it illegal?

Strictly speaking, no. But it’s extremely unethical. Doxing is rarely in the public interest. It’s typically done with malicious intent – to intimidate, interrogate, blackmail and control. It can expose people to:

  • Harassment
  • Identity theft
  • Humiliation
  • Loss of their jobs and careers
  • Rejection from friends and family

Doxing is technically legal so long as the information is publicly available. However, it can still fall under state criminal laws if that information is used for:

  • Stalking
  • Harassment
  • Financial gain
  • Infiltrating private data
  • Doxing a government employee, which falls under the federal conspiracy law and is seen as a federal offense

How to avoid getting doxed

The rest of getting doxed increases the more personally identifiable information you have on the internet. So what can you do?

  • Protect your information when hosting a website. Invest in WHOIS protection – this prevents your private information from being published by concealing it through a domain registrar. Domain registrars offering free WHOIS privacy include DreamHost.com and Unregistry.com
  • Protect your IP address. Use a trusted proxy or virtual private network (VPN) for your IP. HideMyAss is the most popular VPN, allowing anonymous internet use. Using free public Wi-Fi will hide your IP by masking it with that of their network.
  • Creating multiple usernames and email addresses. Use separate usernames for video games and bills. Use strong passwords for emails and usernames – mix letters, digits and symbols. Use multi-factor authorization for critical services like Dropbox, PayPal, etc.
  • Increase social network privacy settings. Be sure you know who all your social media friends are. Edit your profile so you’re only sharing with friends.

Revenge, malicious intent, protest and control – all motives for hackers to dox individuals on the web. So don’t give hackers a reason to dox you.

But what about swatting?

You might be less familiar with swatting, an emerging and dangerous form of harassment that bridges on- and offline worlds, defined by the National 911 program as “false reporting an emergency to public safety by a person for the intent of getting a “SWAT team” response to a location where no emergency exists”. A swatter will usually call 911 reporting that they are currently involved in or witnessing a serious crime such as a “home invasion, active shooter, or hostage situation, attempting to muster the largest response possible. Often, the law enforcement response is substantial, with police confronting the unsuspecting victims at gunpoint, only to learn that there is no real emergency.”

According to The Verge, “the FBI estimates have identified around 400 swatting attacks a year, based on calls from local law enforcement; interviews of accused swatters; and social media audits capturing perpetrators bragging about it,” but the actual figures may be much higher.

Read more about these two unique forms of online harassment, real life examples of doxing and swatting, and more ideas about how you can protect yourself.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

While you may never find yourself as a victim of doxing or swatting, it’s important to know what steps to take to make yourself less vulnerable to online attacks.

  • First and foremost, it’s important to be aware of your digital footprint.
  • It’s a good practice to Google your name from time to time to ensure that there isn’t readily available sensitive information you would not choose to disclose about yourself. If there is, you can take action to have that information removed (check out this page and this page for some ideas of where to start).
  • Avoid positing sensitive or identifying information on social media sites.
  • Do not leave your personal mobile phone number on an out of office reply or work voicemail message.
  • Be aware of tools that use your location information, geotags, etc, especially for sites you frequent, your home address, workplace.
  • Use appropriate privacy settings.

Our favorite tech tools & resources for online safety

  • Tech Safety App – Use the Tech Safety app to learn about steps you can take to increase your privacy and security while using technology (Available in English and Spanish on the App Store or Google Play)

DIY Online Security & Support

This guide is written for folks who have concerns about someone tracking, stalking or using technology-enabled coercive control, but it can also be used by anyone who is interested in reducing their privacy risks online.

HeartMob, a project of the nonprofit Hollaback! is an online platform set up to help people experiencing online abuse or coercive control to report abuse across social networks and receive the kind of support they need, when they need it, from others who have ‘been there’.

Social Media Safety Resources

Legal Information

Tips on safety with social media and internet security. Legal responses to technology misuse, including the differences between criminal and civil court cases, and how each addresses technology misuse.

Safety Net Project – works to address how the intersection of technology and intimate partner abuse impacts the safety, privacy, accessibility, and civil rights of victims.

Wait – but what about tech & your career?

Learn how to avoid common pitfalls and use technology to help, not hinder your career and internship prospects.

How do companies use social media to recruit candidates?

According to a study by Jobvite, 94% of recruiters use or plan to use social media when recruiting, claiming gives them more insight into candidates and allows them to make more informed decisions. So pause before you post – if you think it could be questionable or inappropriate, you should go with your gut.

And heads up – social recruiting is now a “thing” when it comes to hiring candidates – 3 in 10 employers have someone dedicated to solely getting the scoop on your online persona. Employers are searching for a few key items when researching candidates via social networking sites as good signs to hire:

  • Information that supports their qualifications for the job
  • If the candidate has a professional online persona at all
  • What other people are posting about the candidate
  • For any reason at all not to hire a candidate

69% are using online search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing to research applicants, up from 59% in 2016. Employers’ reported turnoffs include search results (from social media or elsewhere) such as the following – some of which might come as a surprise:

  • Provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos or information
  • Sharing confidential information from previous employers
  • Drinking or using drugs
  • Discriminatory comments related to race, gender or religion
  • Badmouthing their previous company or fellow employee
  • Lies/misrepresentations about their qualifications
  • Links to criminal behavior
  • Unprofessional screen names
  • Evidence of lying about an absence
  • Poor communication skills
  • Posting too frequently

…but the news isn’t all bad. 44% of employers reported that they found content on a social networking that caused them to hire the candidate, such as:

  • Background information supporting an applicant’s professional qualifications
  • Evidence of great communication skills
  • A professional image
  • Demonstration of creativity

57% of employers are less likely to call someone in if the candidate is a “ghost” online.

Finding the right balance and voice online can help you find a company whose culture matches your online personality and career aspirations. Learn how maintaining a strong online presence can be helpful.

Make social media work for you during the job search

  • In addition to LinkedIn, think about other ways to showcase your work such as online portfolios
  • Make sure the information on your social media does not contradict your LinkedIn profile.
  • Check your privacy settings on your social media.
  • Ask yourself, “Does my online identity represent what I want employers to see?”

Did you know the UW Career & Internship Center can help you with managing your online presence when looking for a job? By connecting with the Career & Internship Center, you can learn to manage your digital presence during the job search and use technology to your advantage. You’ll also find customized resources related to your major, career goals and class standing.

Additional Resources

 

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