The internet is a wonderful place. It is full of education, learning, entertainment and talent. But, unlike the ‘real world’ it has more than its fair share of danger. Safer Internet Day (#SID) is an annual event with the aim of highlighting those dangers and encouraging internet users to beware and be aware.
Social media is one of the places where there is plenty of opportunity to get into trouble, be caught out or to cause damage or harm to others. The law may be slow to catch-up with social media, but that doesn’t mean that it is lawless. Here are a few tips to stay safe and out of trouble online at any age:
- Know the rules. Each social media account has its own terms and conditions. Some of these include age restrictions, with most social media platforms limited to users over 13 years old. Yet, 78% of 10-12 year-olds have been reported to be using social media accounts underage. If you suspect that a user is under the appropriate age, report your concerns to the operator. If you have a child who is using social media at a young age, discuss with them the risks and their responsibilities.
- Don’t act like a jerk. Social media is a big place. If there are people you don’t like, move on. By bullying or ‘trolling’ other users, or engaging in hate speak, not only are you breaching the terms of the platform, but you may also be reported and subject to criminal investigation and even prison. It can even catch up with you years later.
- Be sure of who you are talking to. Not everyone is who they say they are. Take time to get to know someone properly before sharing details about yourself, photos or meeting in person. The number of sexually related crimes reported after meeting through dating apps has risen seven-fold in the past two years.
- Keep your bits covered. ‘Sexting’ is not a good idea. Private photos shared between ‘special friends’ have a habit of being seen by more than one pair of eyes. If you don’t want it to happen, don’t be pressurised into doing it. Not only is the sharing of intimate images foolish and damage your career prospects, it can also be criminal. The creation, possession and distribution of images of minors and, since last year, the posting of ‘revenge porn‘ in the UK is illegal and may put you in prison.
- Don’t steal stuff. Photos, identities, images and information are plentiful in the social media world, but they’re not just there for the taking. It’s confusing, but sharing an image, re-tweeting or posing next to a poster of Justin Bieber may sometimes be encouraged by commercial organisations, but don’t pretend that those things are yours. There have been cases where jokes have been ‘stolen’, copyrighted images misappropriated without credit (financial or otherwise) and trademarks used to self-promote. There are also increasing concerns about live video-streaming of private and commercial events, from pop concerts to boxing matches. Each of these things may land you with a hefty fine and a whole lot of hassle. If it’s not yours and you haven’t been given permission to use it, don’t. Be creative and do your own thing.
- Keep personal data secure. There are people out there waiting to scam you. Don’t give away too much information about yourself. This might be geo-tagging photos, live-streams or photos of your house (and then telling everyone you’re on holiday). It might be sharing the name of your first pet or your mother’s maiden name (or even more foolish, your actual password) or simply sharing your email address. Your information is not only valuable, it is also private. Avoid giving anyone an opportunity to steal your identity, harass you or worse. Remember, this may be over a long period of time, but which is captured in one place on your social media feed.
- Think first, you can’t always delete. If you say something your regret, or post something by mistake, you can delete it right? Wrong. Once a post is re-tweeted, commented on or screen-grabbed, the ability to control your content is out of your hands. This is true even if you want to correct a typo. If you don’t want to say it, don’t post it. If you don’t want something to be seen, don’t post it. Although there are ways to de-tag photos on Facebook, the photo will remain in place. There are ways to remove images, from social media and from Google, but you need to have a good reason and it can take time.
I joined a selection of experts, including Krishna De, Peter Stewart and Wayne Denner for a special Safer Internet Day live discussion in which we discussed these things and more, specifically for teens and tweens. The video is posted below: