If you get a chance, attend a presentation by Dr. Nancy Zarse, from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, on Internet addiction and online radicalization. You may be surprised, as I was, to find out there is no clinical diagnosis for Internet addiction. There isn’t even a standardized definition for it. So why do we hear so many people talking about it? Dr. Zarse pointed out that – like so many areas in psychology – the issue is complicated. In the Digital Age, our lives are very dependent on technology – and suggesting heavy users of the Internet “back it down a bit” isn’t likely to win us new friends at home, welcome smiles from strangers during our daily commute, or popularity among our colleagues at work.
Three Drivers of Internet Addiction
Dr. Zarse noted several factors that make the Internet addictive
- Interactivity – People can connect with others with similar interests.
- Anonymity – While the Internet is never truly anonymous, the feeling of anonymity allows people to express things they wouldn’t face-to-face or in a public setting.
- Escape – Many people use the Internet to relax and escape daily pressures.
In short, it isn’t so important how much time someone is spending on the Internet, but what they are doing, why they are doing it, and who they are engaging with that matters most.
Concerning Behavior or the New Normal?
So, as parents, community leaders and security professionals, should we be concerned with “Internet addiction”? Well, yes. Think about the parents in Texas whose teen-age daughter committed suicide after being heavily involved in social media groups discussing death and suicide. Consider the families of victims of lone wolf attackers who were inspired and learned attack methods through Internet messages and information. That is, if there is a direct correlation between Internet addiction and online radicalization – and worse: violence or terror.
On-Screen to Off-Screen
Is there? No, according to Dr. Zarse. The connection between online activity and offline action is not that clear cut. Regardless Dr. Zarse suggests taking the following proactive steps:
- Increase your awareness of the power and influence of the internet and social media.
- Take the time to learn about and develop technological skills to equalize the gap between generations.
- Train your children and employees to recognize potential online exploitation.
- Take the time to understand where your children and employees are vulnerable and address those vulnerabilities. As my colleague, Steve Bova talked about earlier this week in his blog, it’s important to make sure employees understand you’re monitoring their Internet use.
The take-way is simple: monitoring your family’s Internet use can help you identify where those vulnerabilities exist and where you might be targeted. Concerned about being accused of parental snooping? Read my blog from December (“Kids and Social Media – It’s Not Parental Snooping When the Whole World Can View It”) that dives further into why it’s not.