Each and every day we find ourselves on the internet, interacting with people, pictures, videos, and games, whether it is for pleasure, school, work, or anything in between. Because we find ourselves online so often, it is easy to forget the vastness and diversity of the internet, in both a positive and negative way.
While talking to friends, watching videos, and playing games are mundane and mostly harmless, there are potential threats at every turn online. These problems can present themselves as a "friend" but turn out to be dangerous, they could be a free download that leads to unwanted malware which gives someone or something access to your computer, or just the simple undesirable "fake news" that can be found throughout your Facebook timeline.
"It began with messages sent through an anonymous app"
How we address possible threats online is important to our offline lives. An answer to a message on an anonymous app can lead to meeting with someone you were positive was someone else; or it can lead to all of your personal history being presented in places on the internet that you could never have imagined. Sometimes it is easy to become too comfortable in a place that we spend hours a day on. For comparison, we spend almost as much time in virtual space as we do in our homes, making it easy for us to "let our guard down", but losing interest in smart decision-making online can lead to very undesired ends.
Many stories have been told about people being "groomed" by a predator online, or the rare cases of being radicalized by extremists, but threats of a lesser degree can plague any person due to poor online decision making. Cyberbullying is an example of this. When people get behind a computer screen it can be easy to become something they're not. However, the realities of online actions can easily transcend virtual boarders and affect your life at home or school. Another example of this can be the decision to listen to something without further examination. When you find something online, deciding to believe it can shape your decisions and behavior offline. Finding articles that have hateful undertones or an opinion from a website that has no basis of fact can shape your opinions without looking into the situation further.
Simple positive decision making can not only prevent you from coming into contact with members of the virtual world that are deemed dangerous (like sexual predators for example), but it can prevent you from garnering hateful, incorrect, and demeaning assumptions about people, ideas, or activities that turn our social world into a more divided one. It is okay to ask for help when being online; below you can find some simple tips and suggestions to bettering everyone's online behavior:
Some very simple tips to take note of when you're online:
Be smart: First and foremost, be smart. If you have to second guess yourself on a decision, chances are it's one you shouldn’t make. Don’t post inappropriate things or say something hurtful to others. They can damage your reputation and hurt you greatly in the long run when it comes to getting accepted to a college or hired for a job. On the same note, avoid posting any images, or comments that may reveal where you live or which school you attend. People with bad intentions can use this information to try and harm you.
Your friends: When someone sends you a Facebook friend request (or any follow request) and you have no idea who they are, do not accept it. If their pictures are full of stock photos (free pictures from the internet), this could be a red flag that the person is not who they say they are. These people might have a different reason for 'friending' you. Only add people if you know exactly who they are, occasionally people will pretend to be a school aged child and create a fake account using a real school and 'real' images. Even if someone seems to be a student, follow the same rules and only add people who you truly know.
Be careful who you talk to: When you are in a chat room, get random Facebook messages, or someone sends you a direct message, and you just don’t know who they are, don’t respond. If it continues, tell a parent or a school counselor. Just opening up a conversation with them could lead to things you would not expect or want. We are not here to tell you to not to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, or Oovoo, but we want you to be aware of the potential risks associated with social media. Unfortunately, these people can find ways to learn who you are, and who your friends are. But they can only find this information if you allow them to by posting it on social media. Remember: When it's on the internet, it stays there. Even if you delete it!
"Casual meetups" are risky: Don’t ever meet up with somebody you met online, especially if no one knows you are doing it. It is not uncommon to hear about people being kidnapped from a 'random' online meetup. The rule is the same for someone who is your age, you have no real way of knowing who they truly are if you only message them online. Some online predators have mastered the ability to pretend like a young student.
Let you be the only you: It is vital to keep your information safe. It is very easy to just have your password be the same for everything, but it can also be very risky. If your password gets leaked, that is a key to your private information and possibly your reputation. Change your passwords every three months and don’t tell others your password. A good rule of thumb is to use a random combination of words that are easy to remember but hard to guess! Have a combination of upper and lower-case symbols and only tell your parents what your passwords are (avoid telling your friends, even if you think they will keep them safe).
The cloud: You hear the cliché term all the time that nothing is ever deleted from the internet. We aren't trying to be cliché, but there is some truth to it. Every time you press delete, that thing is just moved somewhere else in the vast interest universe, it's not destroyed. So, sending risqué pictures, being an internet troll, and attacking people online will never go away no matter how hard you try. Be smart about the decisions you make, because just because you forgot about them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Update Apps and Software: Always be sure to have the most updated apps, anti-virus software, and browsers on your laptop/ computer. Having updated software ensures that your devices are in the best position possibly to protect you from potential hackers. If you need help with updating your browsers or software, ask you parents or your school computer teacher/ technician for guidance.
Technology is smarter than you
We say this loosely of course, but have you ever had a moment of "okay.... that was weird?" Like when you get a text with plans and it just automatically gets placed in your calendar. Or maybe when you post on Facebook, it says where you are posting from? This might seem harmless but information like that can be used in many ways that can be hurtful. A predator knowing where you are at all times is dangerous. It's worth a thought to turn off your app's access to your location.
One of the best things that the internet has done is connect people from all over the world. This, while being a blessing at times, also can come with many problems. Engaging in conversations with peers online is okay behavior. We are not here to suggest that talking to others, even those you do not entirely know, is bad behavior online. However, it is important to know some of the threats that are posed, even with those you may know.
Platforms like online gaming (Xbox, Switch, etc.) or message boards (e.g. Reddit) can be a great place to meeting individuals with similar interests, however when having conversations with these people, it is important to not give out too much information. Names and interests are typically safe to disseminate, but further, more personal details are typically unnecessary and reasonable situations to feel doubt. It is important to make smart online decisions and feeling comfortable is the most important part of this. When situations make you feel uncomfortable online, it is good to remember you are ONLINE and leaving is easier in these situations than when you are in real life.