Get the facts
Why is it important to stay safe online?
The potential for the internet to be a valuable and fun resource for entertainment, making friends and learning is huge. But if you use the internet, you could be at risk of illegal activity or abuse - be it bullying, fraud or something more serious. Unlike seeing someone face to face, on the net, people aren't always what they first seem.
In the same way you learn about safety when you leave the house, it is important to learn how to stay safe online. These are skills that will stay with you for life.
Some Golden Rules
- Don't give out personal information such as your address or phone number.
- Don't open emails or attachments from people you don't know.
- Don't become online friends with people you don't know.
- Never arrange to meet someone in person who you've met online.
- If anything you see or read online worries you, tell someone about it.
Social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and Twitter have become incredibly popular in recent years.
Most users are genuine, but because it is so easy to hide your real identity, it is possible to come into contact with people you would normally avoid.
The internet offers you a lot of freedom and this can lead some people to behave in ways they would not behave in public.
- say things in a chat room they would never say face to face
- give out personal information about themselves or others that they would normally keep private
A common example
A young person tries to let their friends know about their birthday party by posting the information about when and where on their social networking site. This means hundreds of people end up knowing about the party and turn up uninvited. The party could turn into chaos with people getting angry and even refusing to leave. The police would have to get involved to turn people away.
Cyber bullying can work in the same way as bullying in the playground; the victim feels frightened and alone, while the bully tries to hide from being caught.
- Comments, images and videos about a person can be posted online causing the victim to feel frightened and upset.
- It is even possible for cyber bullies to hack into the victim's personal accounts and harass them from within their own user profile.
- Often cyber bullies feel braver because they can't be seen, but it can be the most traceable form of bullying because there's evidence that it's happened.
- But because bullies think they can cover up their identity online sometimes people who wouldn't normally bully might do so online.
Harassment on the internet can be just as frightening as other forms of stalking.
- Women and girls are usually the victims of this kind of behaviour.
- They might be harassed by an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend who is upset about the end of their relationship, for example.
- It can also begin when a purely online friendship turns sour.
- It can even begin entirely at random, by one online stranger towards another.
Beware of the sites you visit - the internet has many sites featuring sex, violence and drug abuse - and other illegal activities.
- Often anyone can access these sites, even when parental controls are in place.
- You could be encouraged to view them via content shared by others on social networking sites.
The internet is a highly interactive tool which can allow people to communicate with each other very easily, through internet chat programs and social networking sites.
Paedophiles have been known to use this method to contact young people by disguising themselves as another young person. This can lead to gaining the trust of an individual and their friends. These false relationships based on lies can often pave way for exposure to upsetting images and online content and in some cases arranging a meeting in person.
Online grooming is the term used to describe inappropriate behavior towards a young person, putting them at risk to a sexual offence.
Even if nothing dangerous does happen, knowing you may have had contact with somebody like this can be extremely upsetting.
The more information you make available online, the greater the risk of identity theft. It can be very tempting to post information about yourself on social networking sites, but you should never do it.
Personal information includes your:
- email address
- phone number
- postal address
- any banking information
The consequences of fraud can be huge, so you should be aware of the very serious risks. If someone steals you or your parent's identity they can:
- steal a lot of money
- commit crimes that could put you or your parents in danger
- commit crimes that you or your parents could get into trouble for
We all know it's not healthy to spend hours and hours in front of a computer screen. But another problem with social networking is the pressure you can feel to make sure you have lots of friends. But here are some things to remember:
- Friendships made online are made by clicking a button rather than talking to people and sharing experiences.
- Being online friends with someone is much less meaningful than face to face friendship.
- You can easily fall out with an online friend because of a misunderstood comment.
- It is far easier, and healthier, to sort out arguments and problems when you can talk to someone face to face
So although you might know someone who likes to boast about how many friends they've got on their social networking site, remember that real friendships aren't made by computers.
Tips so you stay safe on social networking sites
- Make sure you're old enough to join.
- Maybe use a made up name or nickname on your profile.
- Never give out personal information.
- Do not make friends you don't already know personally.
- Maybe use an email address that does not include your name.
- Always use a strong password. That is, don't use any names or words that someone might guess, like the name of your dog or your favourite singer. Use random letters or numbers and change your password regularly.
- Use the strongest privacy setting when you set up your profile. This means that only your friends will be able to view your information.
- Pictures and videos can be shared very easily across the internet, so make sure you are very careful when uploading - even if you only share it with friends, it can easily be spread much further than that.
- Be very careful about sharing content online - especially if it isn't yours to share. Illegal downloads are definitely best avoided.
- Never meet up with anyone you have met online.
- Make sure you know about the safety features on any networking site. Some, for example, have a panic button which you can press if you see something that shouldn't be there.
- If anything happens online that you don't like, tell someone.
Other types of internet use
E-mails, Spam & Viruses
If you have an e-address, at some point you might receive a message from someone you don't know. They could be:
- selling something (this is called a spam email)
- sending you a virus
- sending you an attachment
- sending abusive or explicit content
The golden rule is, if the email is from someone you don't know, delete it.
- If it is spam, you might get ripped off.
- If it is a virus, your computer might get damaged.
- If it is an attachment, it might contain a virus, or it might be something you don't want to see.
- If it is abusive or explicit, it might upset you or even get you into trouble.
You can avoid unwanted emails by getting the right software. This is something for an adult to sort out, but you might know more about it than them already, so help them out.
Get Safe Online is a site explaining the basics of safe surfing including how to protect your PC, and avoiding internet crime.