How to Talk to Young People about Socializing Safely Online
Young people think they have it under control—they have heard the stories about people who are stalked by someone they met online or are the victim of an identity theft or computer hacker. Young people are naïve and usually think this could not happen to them—that they are immune to becoming a victim.
Although young people routinely apply common-sense principles and rules taught at home and school to avoid harmful situations in the physical world, they often don’t apply these same rules in the online world. They do not make the connection that the same precautionary measures must be applied to both the physical and cyber world. That is why it is imperative that students be taught to understand why it is necessary to socialize safely online.
Protect Privacy: Keep personal information personal. Students should never give out their social security number, address, phone number, or family financial information like bank and credit card account numbers. Remind students that sharing information about other people in the family or about their friends can harm them. They should be cautious about sharing other information too, like the name of their school, sports teams, or hobbies, where they work or hang out, or any other information that can be used to identify them or locate them offline.
User Name Savvy: Ensure user names do not reveal too much personal information. It is inappropriate and dangerous for anyone to use his/her name or home town as their user name. Although having a user name gives one the feeling of anonymity, most user names made up of personal information are easily deciphered leading perpetrators to a student's identity and location.
World’s Largest Billboard: Post only information that is appropriate for the entire public. The Internet is the world’s largest billboard—anyone can see individual web pages, including teachers, law enforcement officials, college or university admissions officers, or potential employers. What is posted on a website today may be harmful in the future.
Minimize Negative Publicity: Students should be aware that posting inappropriate photos can lead to damaged reputations and unwanted attention from others. It is important for students to consider the ramifications of posting visual content online by using Web cams, videos, and camera phones. Posting inappropriate visual content such as explicit photos can attract individuals who have bad intentions towards the user, putting them at risk. In addition, it can lead to suspension or expulsion from school.
No ‘Take Backs’: Remember that once information is posted online and deleted or modified, the original will never be completely deleted. Even if information is deleted from a website, older versions exist on others' computers.
Don’t Talk to Strangers: Be careful about adding strangers to IM Buddy or friend lists―people are not always who they say they are. A friend is someone you know well and can trust. The online world has blurred the meaning and definition of a friend. It is important to understand the difference—if individuals cannot provide solid information as to how they know a person, decide if the person should be included in their IM buddy or friend lists. If you do not approve, delete the user name and block that user.
Flirting with Danger: Educate students about the dangers of flirting with strangers online. Virtual individuals can easily lie about their identity while they are online and it is impossible to verify their true identity. The same dangers exist. You can give the wrong impression when flirting with a real stranger as with an online stranger.
Go with Your Gut: Teach ‘trust your gut.’ If anyone feels threatened or uncomfortable by someone or something online, he/she needs to tell the educator or another trusted adult who will know whether or not to report an incident to law enforcement and your Internet service provider. Having students speak up can prevent someone else from becoming a victim.
Cyber Strangers vs. Physical Strangers: Online friends should not be met offline. Explain that strangers in the online world pose a threat to them as much as strangers in the physical world. If educators or parents allow students to physically meet up with virtual friends, adults should chaperone the meeting. Never let them go alone—not even with a friend.
Don’t Accept Unsolicited Mail/Unmarked Packages: Teach students not to click on links or download attachments in emails from strangers or emails they are not expecting. Emails from unknown individuals may contain viruses or spyware that could damage computers and steal personal information—including money from bank accounts. Some viruses can “spoof” the name and email address of friends and fool individuals into thinking the message is from someone known.