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Online Safety

Internet Predator with red glow from computer on face

There is almost no limit to what you can do online. The internet makes it possible to post photos, quickly find information, connect with friends and family, shop from home, listen to music, watch videos, play games, and find out the latest news. While there are many benefits, there are also dangers. Recognizing the risks and protecting your privacy and your reputation will help ensure you live life well online.

Let’s start with your digital footprint. Everything you do online leaves a digital footprint or trail, creating a portrait of you. This includes your posts and likes on social media, images and videos you upload and download, items you browse, emails, chats – everything. People will go online to check you out for the rest of your life. A short-term decision to post or send something today could have long-term consequences. Students have lost scholarships, job offers, and college admission acceptances because of something found in their digital footprint. Once you push send you can never get it back.

Here are points to consider relative to your digital reputation and your privacy.

  • Before posting online, think about what others might learn about you and who might see it in the future – teachers, parents, colleges, and potential employers. It is much easier to maintain a clean online reputation than to try and restore a damaged reputation. Think before you post.
  • Be careful not to overshare online; it can lead to embarrassment, online hate, and shaming. While there are some private thoughts you might be comfortable revealing to someone you know, would you want everyone to see them? 
  • Remember that what you say online about others becomes part of your digital reputation. It should go without saying but treat others as you would like to be treated.
  • Nothing disappears – even if an app claims that your post disappears, it doesn’t.
  • Be aware that when you post a picture or video online, you may also be sharing information about others or personal details about yourself like where you live, go to school, or hang out.
  • Be careful about using your device’s location services. Be sure to set your device to only track and broadcast the information you feel comfortable with.
  • Use privacy settings to make sure that only your family and real friends can see your stuff.
  • If your computer or tablet has a built-in web camera, consider disabling the camera when you aren't using it or covering it up with a piece of removable tape.
  • Investigate your reputation by searching your name on various search engines. If you find content that could be damaging, delete it. If you are uncomfortable with photos or videos in which you have been tagged, try to un-tag yourself or respectfully ask the poster to take it down. 
  • Secure your devices: Use strong passwords, passcodes, or touch/face ID features to lock your devices. This can help protect your information if your device is lost or stolen.

While the internet gives us the ability to expand relationships and build bigger social communities, it also makes it easy for people to lie and hide their identities or pretend to be someone they’re not. This can present real-life danger which is why it is important to be cautious whenever you’re online.

Here are a few other things to think about to help you make smart choices online.

  • How do you know if you can trust someone you meet first online? You can’t which is why online friendships/relationships are risky. It is important to ask these questions if you communicate with anyone you first met online.
    • Has this person asked to keep anything about our relationship/friendship a secret?
    • Has this person hinted at or asked about anything inappropriate?
    • Have I felt pressured or manipulated by this person?
    • Am I true to myself when I talk with this person?
    • The only way to ensure you are safe is to avoid in-person meeting with anyone you meet online. If you really must get together with someone you “met” online, do not go alone. Have the meeting in a public place. Make sure you tell a parent or another trusted adult where you will be and always bring friends along.
  • Trust your gut – you have the power to end a conversation and log off the internet at any time if you get into an iffy or risky situation online.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to a trusted adult if you are uncomfortable with what you see online or how someone is talking to you or what they’re asking you for. If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.
  • Learn to think like a fact-checker. It can be hard to distinguish facts from misinformation and disinformation, so you need to ask yourself – three questions:
    • Who is behind the information?
    • What’s the evidence?
    • What do other sources say?

By making good choices and remaining vigilant, you can make your online experience more positive and productive. 

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