Safe Technology & Social
The use of online technologies and social networking has exploded in recent years creating a big change in the way we connect with others. As with any change to how we do things, there are both pros and cons. Along with the benefits of being able to connect with friends at any time, any place, there are some risks and dangers that are useful to know about.
What is Social Networking?
Wikipedia defines a social networking service as "an online service, platform or site that focuses on building and reflecting of social networks or social relations among people, who for example share interests or activities".
The number of social networking sites seems to be growing all the time. Some popular ones at the moment include:
Social networking also includes online game sites such as Minecraft, World of Warcraft and Runescape.
With so many social networking sites around, keeping up to date with friend's tweets, status changes, birthdays, check-ins, event invites and latest photos can seem like a full-time job!
Social networking has opened up lots of opportunities to interact with people but it also comes with risks. Below are some of the risks to be mindful of:
- Your personal information can potentially be seen by anyone, anywhere - this means your information can be viewed by friends, family, strangers and even potential employers. Take a minute to think about how that employer might judge your Facebook page. Or whether there is anything on your page that you would not want someone in your family, or someone you want to impress, to see.
- Once content is posted, it can be available for a very long time - even when comments or photos are deleted from your social networking pages, it's still possible for other people to find them through internet search engines.
- Sexual predators - these are people who knowingly choose children or young adults to make contact with to try to engage in unlawful sexual contact. Social networking is a very common way for sexual predators to make contact with young people.
- Identity fraud - these people search various sites and gather enough information about a person to steal their identity. The information they find can then be used to do illegal things like steal money from you or commit crimes under your name.
- Trolling - this is when someone misuses social websites to cause harm to other individuals or groups, often through different forms of verbal bullying and harassment.
Protect your personal information
To reduce online risks it's important to consider what personal information you share with others and what information should remain private to you. It's important never to share your:
- home address
- phone number
- school name or address
- information about your workplace
- sporting clubs or groups that can be easily identified.
This personal information can make you easily found in the real world and can also lead to identity fraud.
Choose what information you want people to see. Get to know what the different privacy settings mean and update them regularly. Also, be mindful that social networking sites can change their privacy settings and you won't always know this has happened.
Once a photo is posted online, it's out there forever and you can never be too sure what others might do with it. Your photos can be saved by friends, and often friends of friends, and they could turn up anywhere, any time in the future.
Each time you consider posting a photo, ask yourself, "Would I be happy to print this image and hand it out at school, work or a family bbq?".
It's also important not to post photos of yourself in your school, sporting or work uniform. Any clothing that has badging or names on it can make you easily identifiable.
When you post photos, it's also helpful to think about the impact they will have on friends and/or family, before you post.
Keep sexting laws in mind when taking photos and sending or receiving images.
Taking, sending or receiving sexual images of a minor (under 18) is illegal in most states of Australia. If you're found to have a naked or semi-naked photo of someone under 18 on your phone or your computer, you can be charged with a criminal offence. If you forward the photo to someone else you can be charged with a criminal offence even if you delete it from your own phone. You can still be charged if it's a photo of yourself and you agreed for the photo to be sent.
Not all teens are aware of these laws and may inadvertently find themselves being charged.
Staying safe in chat rooms and with instant messaging
Chat rooms and instant messaging can bring together people with similar interests and activities and can be a wealth of information. However, they can also attract online predators and cyberbullies.
Sometimes, online chatting to the same person over a period of time can make you feel like you know them really well. While this may be the case, it's still wise to stay cautious of new friendships developed online, until you can be sure they are who they say. It's very easy for someone to choose a fake name, age, location or even photo and pretend to be someone they aren't.
If an online friend is asking you for personal information about your school, family, friends or location, it's reasonable to be suspicious of why they're asking. This is all information you shouldn't give out to someone you've met online.
If anything about an online friend makes you feel suspicious, it's important to talk to someone - perhaps an adult family member, a teacher or a counsellor at Kids Helpline.
Also, similar to other online networking sites, to stay safe in chat rooms and with online messaging it's important to be careful about what information you give out. You might consider using:
- only a nickname rather than your real name
- a photo of your favourite band, tv show or movie rather than a profile picture of yourself
The less information you give out, the safer you'll be.
Helpful hints to stay safe online
There are a few simple things you can do to try to stay safe online:
- Consider who you accept a 'friend' request from - try to only accept friend requests from people you know in real life, to reduce the chance of getting into unsafe situations with people you don't know very well.
- Block anyone you have a negative or unsafe interaction with - this doesn't mean you can never be friends, it just stops them from inviting you to be friends or from seeing your profile. If you block someone they won't be told you've done this.
- Only post photos that show you (or your friends) in a positive way.
- Only write positive comments on others people's walls, blogs and profiles - you never know who will read these comments and how they will be interpreted.
- Think carefully about links to sites and resources before you post to others. Ask yourself if the content may be embarrassing or upsetting to them.
- Keep your online friends online - if you're considering meeting someone you've got to know online, make sure you let someone else know who you're meeting and when and where. Take someone with you and meet in a public place. It's a good idea to tell your parents or a trusted adult that you're planning to meet this person face-to-face.
- Think about your privacy when using social media - try to avoid sharing personal information online that could be misused by someone in real life. Pick a user name that isn't your real name and a profile picture that doesn't show any personal information about you. Don't share your full name, address, school or workplace.
Who else can help?
The Government has setup a special website to help young people be safe online. It's called the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner and has lots of great info about online safety.
The eSafety website also has direct links to information on how to manage your privacy and stay safe on most of the popular social media sites.
If you want to learn more about safe technology and social networking or have any concerns about something that's happening online, you can contact Kids Helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our counsellors are trained to be able to chat to you about your concerns and help you find a way to stay safe online. You can call Kids Helpline 24/7 on 1800 55 1800 or use our web or email counselling services.
Kids Helpline counselling can be a great way to get your head straight before you start to work out what to do. Often the first step we take in working with someone who's being bullied (or cyberbullied) is to really get to know and understand the situation that the young person finds themselves in. Research tells us that most teenagers are quite aware of how to stay safe online and what options are available to prevent cyberbullying. Our experience tells us that when young people are being bullied it can bring up strong emotions such as anxiety, fear, guilt and hopelessness. Often the victims do not believe that anything will help. Our counsellors can help you work through these emotions and get some control back in your life.
Other useful hot topics and websites:
Updated: October 2015