Psychotherapist Catherine Knibbs Discusses Digital Literacy in 2022

By Peter Page Peter Page has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on June 10, 2022

The pandemic abruptly accelerated the importance of technology in our ordinary daily lives, particularly for those who were least inclined towards online life before Covid lockdowns left them little choice. The international Digital Literacy in 2022 survey conducted by Avast revealed fundamental shifts over the past three years in attitudes worldwide toward the internet. The survey found some interesting new opportunities created by these shifts. Most of all, however, the survey found the typical casual internet user is woefully unprepared for a more fully digital future.

Avast asked several experts in the field of digital literacy about what could, and should, be done do to make adults more confident online. One of those experts is Catherine Knibbs, a psychotherapist, speaker, author, and consultant specializing in cyber trauma. Her academic work focuses on the digital experiences of children, while her professional work aims at helping adults safely navigate their digital lives.

We asked Catherine Knibbs about her thoughts on the increasing use of the internet and the impact that has on our safety, focusing especially on the findings in Digital Literacy in 2022.

Grit Daily: More than two-thirds of 18 to 24-year olds said the internet had become much more, or a little more important to them. Is that an unhealthy trend? 

I would say not. The reason being is the internet itself is a nebulous concept. When we use phrases like ‘the internet’ in studies, we don’t know what those 18 to 24-year-olds were actually doing in that ever increasing space. But what they are saying is, of course, that the internet is important to them.

Everything that we now do in the 21st century relies on technology that facilitates our ability to do things such as working, banking, social media, and sharing information. So I don’t think it’s an unhealthy trend to rely on something that facilitates progress in life. We call that technology.

So I would say, there isn’t an over-reliance on technology, and young people find it important that technology exists.

Grit Daily: Weren’t we already worried about people in that age bracket spending excessive time online before the pandemic?

Well, we’ve created a world that is technologically demanding, therefore we need technology. And, of course, during lockdowns, we couldn’t go out, so technology became even more critical for the survival of the species, even to just get food. 

It’s a little bit like ovens: “Oh, look at us, relying on electricity or gas”. Yet we couldn’t cook our food if we didn’t rely on electricity, gas or other utilities.

Grit Daily: 46% of global digital citizens over the age of 65 said the internet had become much more, or a little more important to them since the beginning of the pandemic, but that wasn’t evenly spread. People living in large metropolitan areas reported finding the internet to be a more positive influence on their lives than those who live in more rural areas. Do you have any ideas why? 

I don’t know what the question was in the study or how the question was responded to. And again, this is more of a sociological approach. 

That being said, I would think it was something to do with those rural areas. Perhaps there was more face-to-face connection and support in villages than in wide metropolises. And I’m wondering if maybe it’s the type of person who moves into the rural areas. So again, I don’t know if the research went that far to look at socioeconomic status. And maybe, you know, hobbies and lifestyle choices. Perhaps that’s the reason.

And I was looking at the age thinking; maybe they would be retired so don’t need to be in cities for work. By the time I’m 65, I’m probably going to be living quite rurally because I don’t need to be in the midst of those fast-paced metropolitan areas. So in that case, they won’t need to be online to keep up with work.

Grit Daily: Almost half – 49 percent – of people worldwide said they usually read websites’ and apps’ privacy policy before sharing my data. Really? 

That’s a big fib! I can tell you that’s untrue because one of my jobs teaches people about GDPR, data protection and privacy policies and cyber security. And this is what we call a socially desirable answer – “of course, I read the privacy policy”. However, privacy policies are complicated. They usually contain subsets of further documents that you need to go off and read, particularly if you start to look at the EU, the GDPR.

I can tell you that what I think people mean is that they look at it. They believe that the privacy policy says that that particular app, platform or piece of software will look after their data. We know from surveillance capitalism, the capture and commodification of personal data for the core purpose of profit-making, that’s not necessarily the truth.

And indeed, a privacy policy is written in legalese. And it’s too complicated to understand for the layperson. That has become very apparent in my work over the past 5-10 years. You shouldn’t need a law degree to understand what’s happening to your data.

Grit Daily: More than half of the population in Latin America, India and Spain said the internet had made life more bearable during the pandemic, but only 18% of Japanese respondents said that. To what degree do concerns about online safety contribute to those large differences in how various societies view the internet? 

I think this is a lack of education. In countries like China, there is this idea that they’ve embraced technology in a way that most other countries haven’t, so moving completely online wasn’t such a big move. Other countries, however,  might have been slower because they didn’t really understand the risks and just stayed offline.

And indeed, when we’re talking about risks, dangers, pitfalls, and issues, those are not fully understood because of how people operate in terms of their brains. If I was going to go into a city park and I saw five German Shepherds off their leads, I might be a little bit cautious about going into that space. If I went to a nightclub and there were people taking drugs in the doorway, I might be cautious. But we can’t see the risks and dangers of technology like that.

If we can’t see the dangers, we don’t even recognize and even take them into account.

And that comes back to cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is the primary thing that we need to think about, but it’s the last thing on people’s lists because it’s tedious, complicated, misunderstood and they think they don’t need it because they don’t get those cautionary signals like in real life.

Grit Daily: Overall, the report indicates internet use will grow worldwide, now that so many people have given it a try. How much do online security concerns dampen those growth prospects?

Yeah, online security is not in everybody’s lexicon. Sometimes, progress is so fast that people don’t perceive what they need to do to protect themselves. But then again, governments are acting on security issues in terms of regulation and legislation. This will create obstacles for some of the tech companies.

Right now, when technology is being developed, it’s profit before principle for most companies, but systems need to be created that put the human at the very center of the product that they’re creating. People are going to need to be able to read the privacy policy. They will need to understand cybersecurity. Companies need to have conversations about  ‘what if, what if, what if’ to anticipate weaknesses before security problems arise, instead of trying to fill in holes after product launches.

Grit Daily: Do you have anything else that you feel is missing in these questions? Thinking about how this is going to read as a full bodied article as a writer yourself? Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Yes. I’ve said this in every kind of interview that I’ve ever done.

We need to do more than just tell young children ‘don’t give your details out online’. We have to explain to them why it’s important. We also need to point out that it’s not just posting ‘my birthday is this and my mother’s maiden name is this’. If you post your email address or Gamertag online, that also gives away that bit of information. When you say happy birthday to your friends online, and they say it to you, you’re now giving away the same information but in a different format.

So we all went into Elon Musk’s “town hall” without considering how many of us have got megaphones and are shouting out personal details. And those are the conversations we need, rather than the terrifying ‘avoid scams by doing this, this, this and this’ chats. Many people read those instructions and follow those instructions. They don’t think outside the box.

Education could be more about creating documentaries, considerations for people to have that stimulate creative thinking. We could have these conversations, but not give everybody the answers, give them further questions to consider and reflect on because that’s how we learn.

People want stories and explanations, and they want the why.

Crucially, we need to create conversations that are not shame-based because that closes down thinking, participation and further engagement. Because that’s one of the things, isn’t it? Someone falls for an obvious phishing link and calls you for help and you think, ‘oh, you silly person.’ And then the person thinks ‘I’m not gonna tell you anything that I’m doing now.’ An article for Tripwire discussed why people who make mistakes in businesses don’t come forward to say they clicked on a phishing link. It’s because they fear, sacking, shaming, and all of the other things that are tied into our early development.

Finally, the conversation should be done without using the Silicon Valley jargon. In the crypto and NFT world, there are new acronyms daily and I have to go off and reset, and I’m thinking now I feel stupid even though I’m in this arena! It’s not set up to be easily understood. If it’s an elitist space, then those who don’t feel they meet the criteria aren’t going to join, making them more vulnerable to exploitation?

I’m also currently watching with a huge curiosity the number of children in the crypto space, and with 99% of the wallets, you have to KYC into it, which means you’ve got to give your name, and you have to be over 18 for finance. So how are these young people in these spaces? They are kidding their parents in some way, aren’t they? And you know what will happen when they get funded with a tax bill? Because, you know, crypto isn’t free of financial regulations.

And the banks have been saying no, no, no, you can’t transfer your money to crypto wallets, but you know those in the crypto space well aware that this is how you can get around it – you can do it with Binance that you come across to Bitcoin. I’m noticing, working with an online safety company at the minute the number of young people in these spaces having conversations. But they are not 18!

There’s another conversation about how we put safeguards in for the young people and, you know, financial processes. It’s fast and fascinating, but the quicker it moves, the more issues occur.

By Peter Page Peter Page has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Peter Page is an Editor-at-Large at Grit Daily. He is available to record live, old-school style interviews via Zoom, and run them at Grit Daily and Apple News, or BlockTelegraph for a fee.Formerly at Entrepreneur.com, he began his journalism career as a newspaper reporter long before print journalism had even heard of the internet, much less realized it would demolish the industry. The years he worked as a police reporter are a big influence on his world view to this day. Page has some degree of expertise in environmental policy, the energy economy, ecosystem dynamics, the anthropology of urban gangs, the workings of civil and criminal courts, politics, the machinations of government, and the art of crystallizing thought in writing.

Read more

More GD News