The Spanish National Police and Fundación MAPFRE have joined forces and injected a great deal of originality to come up with a space for r aising awareness and promoting knowledge about the Internet and social media. Named “Ciberland”, it has already premiered in Madrid and is now touring other Spanish provinces.
TEXT: ANTONIA ROJO PHOTOS: FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE
An amusement park is a fitting metaphor for the Internet and social media, with its promise of entertainment and happiness linked to the exhilaration of sensations and hormones. And in this consequence-free adrenaline rush, each colorful, brightly lit gadget tries to “convince everyone that they are all having a good time all the time”, to paraphrase David Foster Wallace in his book A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. But the truth is that online, as in life, there are fewer safeguards than in any Disneyland and that dangers lurk, or, to be less dramatic, simply exist.
That rhetorical connection is also at the origin of Ciberland, a traveling exhibit organized by Fundación MAPFRE and the Spanish National Police. Under the slogan Discover what the networks hide, it invites visitors to discover the risks of the digital world and reflect on them in an attractive and dynamic way. “Everything that ends in “land” sounds fun, playful… and the internet and social media can indeed be this”, explains Alicia Rodríguez, from Fundación MAPFRE’s Health Promotion Area, “but it is very important to raise awareness and understand the risks that exist, know how to prevent them, and be able to responsibly make use of all the benefits.”
The Ciberland exhibition uses the aesthetics of an amusement park to create seven themed spaces, including a room that emulates a mirror maze. The 470 m2 exhibition was visited by more than 4,000 people during its stay in Madrid in October and since then it has also visited other Spanish capitals, including Seville and Valladolid. Most of the visitors have been young people between 15 and 18 years old. But the truth is that “anyone can be a victim of these crimes”, as the National Police emphasize. It also showcases risks that are more typical for adults, such as phishing, a criminal technique that consists of sending an email pretending to be a legitimate organization (such as a bank or a public institute), to obtain the user’s personal information and make fraudulent use of it. On the other hand, it also includes, for example, grooming, in which an adult gains the trust of a minor through deception, with the purpose of obtaining sexual benefits from the young person. The main goal of Ciberland, say the National Police, is to raise awareness among citizens “of the importance of taking care of the information displayed on social media, the security we install on our devices, the online relationships we have, the type of leisure activities we engage in and, consequently, forming appropriate habits for our healthy, safe and responsible use of ICTs” (information and communication technologies).
What can we expect when we visit Ciberland? First of all, we must highlight the look and feel of the project, the desire to inform people and raise their awareness of the darker facets of the internet and social media through entertainment and play. In the first space, we discover that of the 8 billion people in the world, 5.31 billion have access to the Internet via their cell phones (January 2022 data), and that users between the ages of 16 and 64 spend an average of almost seven hours a day surfing the net. Moreover, eight out of ten of these Internet users (how outdated this term sounds now) spend their leisure time playing video games. Indeed, online gaming is the subject of the next room, featuring gamer decor, where we are told about its risks and are invited to reflect critically on these.
The following rooms unfold the various challenges we face in our virtual lives, with their realities, dilemmas and red flags, using staging that blends written information with quiz games and colorful and attractive scenography. In addition, we learn about many terms (anglicisms rule here) related to abusive or criminal practices of which the National Police is already aware but which may not be common knowledge to the general public. These include vishing, a telephone call in which the supposed operator, who identifies themselves as a worker at a bank or a public institute, requests personal information or even remote access to one of our devices so that they can steal our data. And smishing, a technique that uses instant messaging services to once again pretend to be a legitimate organization, to obtain the user’s personal information and steal their identity. “Nomophobia also attracts a lot of attention”, reveals Alicia Rodríguez, from MAPFRE. This is “the irrational fear, uneasiness, anxiety and severe discomfort that a person feels when they do not have a cell phone, together with their inability to turn it off even in places where its use is forbidden”.
From here, we pass through the space dedicated to fake news (with the slogan “Distrust. Verify. Decide”); to social media and its abuse (with information on cyberbullying, digital violence, sexting, sextortion, etc.); identity theft (promoting the idea of privacy); and the physical and psychological consequences caused by the inappropriate use of information technologies. Finally, we arrive in a pinkwalled exit lounge that bids us a positive farewell and invites us to develop good digital health and acquire tools that we can use to fight abuse and addiction. “Don’t let your cell phone control your life”, reads one of the texts in this last room. It sounds easy, but it would certainly make a great New Year’s resolution for many of us. Let’s put it into practice.