Teen Cybersafety Guide
I know. You’re sick and tired of being lectured to. You know how to keep yourself safe online. You’re not a baby! You use privacy settings on Facebook and Instagram. You don’t say things you will regret on Twitter or Ask.fm. You aren’t meeting strangers offline. You are careful. You aren’t sharing too much info and you think the media has blown the risks out of proportion.
Great. You can stop reading now and go have fun doing something else. For the rest of you, just in case there is something you hadn’t thought about, or you have a friend who isn’t as careful and smart as you are...
Don’t Be Stupid!
Most teens understand enough about cybersafety to write a book. They don’t want to be hurt or get into trouble. The problems that WiredSafety are seeing when teens are connected through cell phones, game devices or the Internet itself are either because the teen didn’t know enough about the technology, or because they were just “being stupid” and not thinking.
Stupid is when you decide to pose nude for a cell phone photo or webcam video for any reason. Stupid is when you believe your boyfriend when he tells you he would never share the photo with anyone and no one else will see it. (Even if he is trustworthy, he might have a little brother who isn’t, a friend using his cell or a parent who checks his cell phones once in awhile.)
Stupid is when you think no one can figure out that the anonymous email, post or profile you made came from you. (They collect the electronic footprint when you interact online that can be traced back to your computer or cell.)
Stupid is when you do things online that you would never do offline just because you can.
Stupid is when you think that cute sixteen year old boy or girl you met online is always a cute sixteen year old boy or girl.
Stupid is when you think someone will send you an iPod just for playing a game and giving them some “harmless” personal information (like your dad’s credit card number).
Stupid is when you know better, but do it anyway.
There is something about the technology that makes you think that the people who are reading your posts or blogs are only the ones you want to read them. You talk to them. You post pics and videos for them. You are funny for them. But sometimes “they” include others who would love to harass you, get you back for something or are just plain old creeps.
And when you are typing as fast as you do, you leave out words or letters, think something is clear when it’s not or even send it to the wrong person. When you make these mistakes, the person who receives it may not know that you weren’t trying to freak them out. And they may react as though they were harassed or threatened. That’s when you get reported to Facebook or the police, or the target of an “Oh, yeah? Well you started it,” campaign.
Okay, Already. You Told Me What I Can’t Do. What CAN I Do?
Teens tell Parry Aftab (a cyberlawyer who is also the founder of WiredSafety) and her Teenangels (Teenangels.org) that they know what not to do already. They want to know what they can do. So here goes.
You can post a picture online. Just make sure it’s one your parents, principal, a predator and the police can see without you getting hurt. And for good measure, add in prospective college recruiters and employers and the (future) love of your life too. And the picture you post should be your own. If others are in it, ask first. It’s common courtesy and hopefully will be reciprocated when they are thinking about posting that picture of the two of you in sixth grade that you thought (and desperately hoped) was deleted long ago!
And be careful what you tag. Every tag identifying you in a pic is a potential sharing of too much information. A picture can say a thousand words and in cases where the pics are tagged and circulated, can come back and haunt you. Tagging makes it easier for college recruiters to see what you really do, instead of what you said on your application you do. Your parents might see you drinking at a party. Or when you were somewhere you weren’t supposed to be at that time, you are outed big time.
You can have a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (or other social networking) profile and still be safe. It just requires that you are choosy. You have to be choosy about who can see it and what they can see. (Visit Facebook.com/privacy and understand your privacy choices.) You can decide that one friend can see everything, but another one can’t see some pics. You have to be choosy about the site itself. Who else is on that site and what kind of an impression does the site make? Fun? Freaky? Wild? Slimey?
Choosing your social networks is like choosing where you want to live. Remember who your neighbors will be.
You should also delete old profiles you are no longer using. It’s pretty easy if you know your login and password. But if you forgot the login and password, or aren’t using the same email address you had in sixth grade when you set it up, it can be harder. Ask the network for help if you need it. Most have a procedure to shut down old profiles and prove they are yours.
You can talk to online “strangers” safely too. We know that parents will freak if they read this one. They have warned you since you were three to avoid “strangers.” Then “strangers” were creepy men in black raincoats who hadn’t shaved in weeks. Now “strangers” are people you don’t know in real life that you have met online.
Think of it this way. If you were on a bus with your mother when you were five and an old lady sitting across the aisle compliments you on your shoes, would you run screaming from the bus? She’s a “stranger” right? But she wasn’t threatening, creepy or inappropriate. At the same time, your mother would not have whipped out her wallet and told the old lady where she bought them and that she paid for them with her VISA card and given the old lady the account info.
It’s not talking to strangers that is the problem. It’s what you talk about. This works online and offline. If you meet someone online from Australia, it would be interesting to find out what an Australian teen does for fun. Do they all have pet kangaroos? And they would have similar questions about teens from Texas. Do they all ride horses to school? And maybe they will have less boring things to share too. J
When communicating with new people online that you don’t know in real life, remember the bus story. No credit card information J and nothing you wouldn’t tell a stranger on a long bus ride. And remember:
They are not your “friends” just people you met online.
They shouldn’t get information you wouldn’t give to an offline stranger.
And that cute sixteen year old boy (or girl) you met online may not be cute, may not be sixteen and may not be a boy (or girl).
How can you be safer when meeting online friends offline?
There’s no way to be entirely safe when you meet people in real life, period! And while we will tell you never to meet them in real life, some of you will ignore us and meet them anyway. The idea is to get you back safely, if you do.
So, if you are going to ignore our advice about meeting people offline, you can stay safer as long as you remember:
Go as a group. (Parry suggests bringing some sumo-wrestlers with you too. J) They can always give you some privacy later once the person is who they said they were. Even consider bringing a parent (if they are cool parents).
Meet in a very public place, but not a noisy one like an amusement park, where no one can hear you shout.
Have an exit strategy. If you decide this was a bad idea, have a plan for leaving safely and quickly.
Start out by telling them before you meet that your parents are waiting for you in the Mall (or wherever you are meeting) and you won’t have much time. You can change that if you feel comfortable.
Have realistic expectations. Remember that everyone lies a little, so be prepared and make sure you only lied a little.
Take things very slowly. You may think you know and can trust them, but you only know what they said, not necessarily who they are inside.
Give yourself time to get to know them in real life before taking it any further. You don’t owe them anything!
Trust your gut. If things feel wrong – get out of there right away. Don’t worry about hurting their feelings.
And if it’s a creep, not the person you thought you were meeting, report them. Even though your parents might find out and be very unhappy, you might be helping protect the next potential victim.
Now, for what you should do:
Suggesting that any teen slow down and proofread their texts or IMs is probably a waste of time. But taking a second to decide if you really want to send that or whether you will regret posting something is a good idea. The only time you can protect yourself from the consequences of things going wrong is BEFORE you click the “send” button.
What you post online stays online – forever! (One of Parry’s favorite lines, but true.) Deleting it afterwards may not delete it from everyone else’s copies, Google or what was already printed out, forwarded or saved.
Use privacy settings on all your profiles and photo and video-sharing pages.
You want to decide who can see what. But always remember, while you may restrict your Facebook to the group for teens in your high school, most groups have people in them who don’t belong there, starting with teachers and school administrators and coaches. Assume they are reading your stuff too when you post to a group.
Respect yourself and others
It’s a boring message, but probably the most important one we can share. Put yourself in a mental time machine and fast forward to when you are 30 years old. What will you be doing with your life? Who will be important people in your life then? Now look at your profiles and online posts, pics and videos. Is there anything there that you wish (as a 30 year old) you could erase? The time to do it is now, before it affects your future. What seemed like a good idea at the time, especially if you had a beer or two at a party, may not be when you wake up in the morning. And don’t do anything online that you wouldn’t do offline – that’s the Internet Golden Rule.
Choose a password that is easy to remember but hard to guess.
Most teens (and adults) choose passwords based on “20 Questions.” They use the same 20 questions to come up with their passwords, like their middle name, their pet’s name, their birth date, the town they live in, their favorite movie, their best friend’s name, the car they want to drive, the year they graduate, the college they want to attend, etc. The problem is that these are pretty easy to guess when you know someone pretty well. Just think about how many of these you could answer about your friends and others in your class. And if you can guess theirs, they can probably guess yours too, unless you are careful.
Lots of security experts tell you to use a password with upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. That might be good for security experts, but it’s really hard to remember. So, you have to write it down and stick it on a post-it sheet on your monitor to remember. How secure is that? Not very!
Instead, use a sentence with a number in it. You start it with a capital letter and end it with punctuation (a symbol!). Upper case, lower case, numbers and a symbol. Easy to remember and hard to guess. Just make sure you aren’t using your favorite quote or something you have posted on your Facebook page.
Teenangels (teen Internet safety experts at teenangels.org) tell other teens to use a different password for each site. You can use the site name in the sentence and it’s different for each site and secure, as well as easy to remember. “Facebook has more than 1 billion users!” Wow! (And it’s a pretty good password once you leave out the spaces.)
Or choose something only you would know, that is easy for you to remember and no one else can guess (even and especially your “BFF”). Choose your favorite character in a book and how old you were when you first read that book, or the best birthday resent you ever got and how old you were when you got it. That gives you numbers and letters and is easy for you to remember, but hard for others to guess. Get it?
More than 70% of teens polled said that they had shared their passwords with at least one friend (often their boyfriend or girlfriend). That’s one friend too many, especially when friends get into fights or couples breakup. It’s not smart since, when armed with your secrets and your passwords, friends can do some serious damage.
It’s also not a good idea to click “save my login and password” when using a computer that anyone else can access, like your little brother or sister, your friend’s computer or one at school. Let your friends know that friends don’t ask for their friend’s passwords. Find another way to show them how much you trust them.
Cyberharassment, Stalking and Cyberbullying
Teens say that “cyberbullying” is sooo “middle school.” They are too mature to do those kinds of things in high school. Think again! While it might be called cyberharassment instead (if they are eighteen or over), or might not even have a name in high school, when people take over your accounts, pass nasty rumors, have a quiz on how ugly, fat or stupid you are...they are cyberbullying you. Cyberbullying is when one minor uses technology as a weapon to hurt another minor. Whether they are passing around a nude pic of the victim to embarrass her, or sending around texts lying about what she said or did, or reprogramming his cell phone, it’s cyberbullying.
When they steal or misuse your password and pretend to be you online, it’s cyberbullying. So, call it what you want, teens still use technology to hurt each other all the time. Often offline bullies start this stuff. But sometimes you start it when you overreact to something someone else did or said. “They started it” doesn’t matter.
The best way to handle any harassing message you may receive is to “stop, block and tell!” You should stop and not answer back. It only feeds the harassment campaign. You should block the person or message. Why torment yourself further or give them access to you? And you should tell someone you trust, preferably an adult. Teens have committed suicide when cyberbullying gets out of control. Talking to someone can help you keep things in perspective. Using an adult to confide in means you are never confiding (without knowing it) in the cyberbully. (Seventy percent of cyberbullying
occurs anonymously, so you never know if it’s your best friend or worst enemy. But you know for sure it’s not your teacher, guidance counselor or your parents.)
And if you are tempted to answer back...do something else. Parry Aftab and Teenangels call this “Take 5!” Do something you love to do for five minutes to help you calm down. Just make sure it doesn’t involve a cell phone, computer game device or computer, so you won’t do something you will regret later.