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Safe Technology & Social Networking

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:

  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • YouTube
  • Bebo
  • Foursquare
  • Twitter

Social networking also includes online game sites such as 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!

Risks

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. Is there anything there that you know you would not want them 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 is still possible for other people to access 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 sexual contact
  • Identity fraud - these people search various sites and gather enough information about a person to steal their identity. This is usually so they can conduct things like financial fraud
  • Trolling - this is when someone misuses social websites to cause harm to other individuals or groups. One example is from 2008, when a UK man was ordered to pay about $35,000 (Australian) for libel and breach of privacy for creating a fake page on Facebook, suggesting an old school friend was homosexual and dishonest

Protect your personal information

To reduce online risks it is important to consider what personal information you share with others and what information should remain private to you. It is important never to share your:

  • home address
  • phone number
  • school name or address
  • information about 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.

Privacy Settings

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.

Photos

safe technologyOnce a photo is posted online, it is 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 is 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 is also helpful to think about the impact they will have on friends and/or family, before you post.

Sexting

Keep sexting laws in mind when taking photos, sending or receiving images. Did you know that in 2007, 32 Victorian teenagers were charged with child pornography offences?

Taking, sending or receiving sexual images of a minor (under 18) is illegal. 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 is 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.

More information is available on our Sexting hot topic and from our Make Cyberspace a Better Place campaign.

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 is still wise to remain cautious of new friendships developed online, until you can be sure they are who they say they are. It is 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 is reasonable to be suspicious of why they are asking. This is all information that shouldn't be given out to someone you have met online.

If anything about an online friend makes you feel suspicious, it is 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 is important to be careful about what information you give out. You might consider using:

  • only a nickname rather than your real name
  • a cool graphic photo or a photo of your favourite band, tv show or movie rather than a photo of yourself

The less information you give out, the safer you will be.

Helpful hints to stay safe online

There are a few simple things you can do to try to keep safe online:

  • Consider who you give access to - you might know your friends really well, but how well do you know your friends' friends?
  • Use nicknames or initials - when referring to others in posts or tweets to avoid any embarrassment for friends
  • 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 will not be told you have done this
  • Only post photos that show you (or your friends) in a positive way
  • Only writing positive comments on others' 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 to them or cause them issues in any way
  • Keep your online friends online - if you are considering meeting someone you have got to know online, make sure you let someone else know who you are meeting, when and where. Take someone with you and meet in a public place. It is a good idea to tell your parents or a trusted adult that you are planning to meet this person face to face
  • Think carefully before you create an email address or screen name - it is best if you create a name with letter and numbers, that doesn't identify you as male or female
  • Think about how you might use your email account - if you are adding your email address to your resume, you might want the address to be sensible and not too open to judgement

Who else can help?

If you want to learn more about safe technology and social networking or have any concerns about something that is 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 to 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 is being bullied (or cyber bullied) 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:

References

Published: 8 February 2012