We know that the Internet isn’t a scary place. Come on, it’s where we found those amazing pictures.
It is important to remember that interacting with people online can get complicated. Relationships and friendships can be confusing, and when you’re talking to someone online, it can be especially hard to figure out what the other person is actually thinking.
Unfortunately, there’s no app that sends you every time a conversation is getting kind of risky. But by knowing some warning signs, safety rules of thumb, and what to do if you do feel uncomfortable, you can help protect yourself and your friends.
5 SAFETY RULES OF THUMB
1. DON’T TRUST THE DEFAULT PRIVACY SETTINGS.
Think of it this way: When you’re hanging out online it’s like being in your own room. But if you want privacy in your room, you can shut your door. Unfortunately, most websites, social media apps, or gaming devices come to you with the door wide open so that anybody, even creeps, can chat with you. (Worst of all, sometimes it’s almost impossible to tell that they’re creeps.) But you can take steps to help keep them out. Most of these websites, apps, and games have settings that allow you to shut the door. You just need to change your privacy settings so that only your real friends can connect with you. If you need help learning how to do this, here’s a page with quick links to the privacy settings pages for common apps, websites, and gaming devices.
2. HAVE AN EXIT PLAN
If someone is bugging you or talking to you in a way you don’t like, you can unfriend or block them, and you shouldn’t hesitate to! (Report them through the app, too, if something is getting really sketchy). If you’re talking to or being followed by people who aren’t your close friends, avoid posting things that reveal how to find you in real life (like the name of your school, where your soccer team practices, etc). It could also be smart to make sure that your user name or handle is different from your real name, that way if you get into a conversation that’s making you uncomfortable you can exit it without the fear of someone tracking you down.
3. BE A TINY BIT PARANOID.
If you send or post a picture, you can’t always control how it’s being seen—or how it’s being shared by others. If you feel like there’s any chance that the picture could get into the wrong hands, don’t risk it, don’t share or post it.
4. STAY IN SAFE ONLINE PLACES.
Just as you wouldn’t walk down dark alleys alone at night, you should avoid creepy places online and creepy apps. You could stumble on photos or videos you don’t want to see (or maybe are even illegal!), or end up connecting with people who are looking to take advantage of you. Follow your gut, and don’t walk down the alleyways of the Internet.
5. TELL SOMEONE!
If you ever feel uncomfortable or think that something is sketchy, tell an adult you trust! Whether it’s a teacher, a parent or a school counsellor. It’s better to talk to someone about it now, even if it means you have to confess something you did or it’s difficult to share. If you wait it could become a bigger problem. If you’d like, you can also talk to someone anonymously by calling the CyberTipline at 1-800-843-5678.
8 RED FLAG PHRASES
How do you know when someone has bad intentions or is just being really friendly? Here are some signs that you can watch out for when talking to someone:
1. “DM ME” OR “LET’S GO PRIVATE.”
Leaving the comments section, or public thread, and talking on a private messaging app gives people a chance to learn more personal information about you or to talk to you knowing that they’re safe from being “overheard.”
2. “ARE YOU ALONE?”
Someone may ask if you’re alone to send you content they wouldn’t want your parents or other people seeing. They may also want you alone to get you to share more pictures or information. If someone you don’t know is specifically seeking out ways to talk to you in private, be extra careful. It’s okay to end a conversation or block a user that makes you feel uncomfortable.
3. “SEND ME A PIC.”
There are some pictures that seem harmless to share with someone you trust, but once you share a photo with someone, you can’t always control who else they share it with. Pictures might also communicate more information than you intend to—for example, a photo of you and your friends at your volleyball tournament can tell someone where you go to school.
4. “YOU SEEM SAD. TELL ME WHAT’S BOTHERING YOU.”
We all enjoy having someone offer a listening ear. While it can be helpful for you to talk about what you’re going through, it also gives the other person a chance to learn about your thoughts and private life. It’s possible that the person is asking personal, seemingly caring questions to find out ways to take advantage.
5. “I KNOW A WAY YOU CAN EARN MONEY FAST.”
Anyone offering you a way to make money fast should probably not be trusted. It’s a good idea to avoid getting caught up in dealing with money with someone you don’t know, especially if it includes sending photos of yourself or talking on a webcam. Even if it sounds like what they’re asking you to do is no big deal, it’s probably smart to avoid these situations all together.
6. “WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER?” OR “TEXT ME.”
Not only does giving someone your phone number create an opportunity for them to build more trust and a false sense of intimacy, a phone number also reveals your location, and oftentimes, your home address.
7. “I LOVE YOU.”
Everyone enjoys hearing the words “I love you,” but sometimes, people will use this to make it feel safe to do things that you might not otherwise do.
8. “IF YOU DON’T DO WHAT I ASK, I’LL SHOW EVERYONE THE PICTURES YOU’VE SENT ME.”
As someone learns more and more about you, they might threaten to reveal a private photo or tell your parents about something you’ve shared if you don’t do what they ask. Even if you’re afraid of what they might think, tell a parent, teacher, or another adult you trust right away if someone is trying to intimidate you. It’s better to put a stop to threats right away than to hope that they’ll stop after you do what they ask.
(Adapted from ConnectSafely)
We have a camera with us 24/7, and it’s likely that sexting is a common practice at your school, but it can have negative consequences when a photo meant for one person is being passed around your class, or the whole football team.
If you’re thinking of sexting, remember that once an image is shared on the internet you can never delete it. Even if the original file is deleted, it may have been downloaded or had screenshots taken which means it lasts forever.
Standing up against sexting doesn’t just mean you don’t send photos. It also means you don’t ask for them, and that you say something if you see a classmate dealing with the negative consequences of sexting.
If being respectful isn’t enough to convince you, remember: even if a youth is taking and sending explicit material of themselves, they can be charged with the production and distribution of child pornography by law enforcement. In one example, a 17-year-old boy who sent a photo of his genitalia to his girlfriend was charged with two felony charges, which could lead not only to incarceration but also to being listed on the state sex offender registry. Although it is unlikely for a teenager to face charges in court for sexting, it is important for youth to be aware of the realities of the possible legal consequences.
If you’re thinking about sending a photo, ask yourself:
- Is this something I would do face-to-face?
- Would I be okay with this photo being posted in my school’s hallway?
- Do I feel pressured to send something? If so, who can I talk to about it?
If you’re thinking about asking for a photo, ask yourself:
- Is this something I would do face-to-face?
- Would I want someone to ask me for the same thing?
- Am I asking because I feel pressured to by others? If so, who can I talk to about it?
If you see a classmate’s photo being passed around:
Don’t jump to judgements about the person in the photo. Instead, ask yourself:
- If this was a photo of me, how would I want others to react?
- Did the person in the photo want it to be shared?
- Did the person in the photo know this picture was being taken/want it to be taken? (Even if it looks like they did in the photo)
Take steps to protect your classmate:
- Tell a teacher or school counselor about the photo (you can ask them to not share who told them if you’re afraid of how others might react to you telling an adult).
- If you see the photo on social media, report it as inappropriate content so that it’s taken down.
If someone sent you a picture of their junk and you didn’t even want to see it:
- Tell someone you trust—you don’t have to deal with this issue on your own!
- Even if you’re upset, avoid the temptation to “get back” at them: do not pass that photo on. That could end up having consequences for you in the future.
- If they’re texting you, block their phone number so that they can’t contact you. If they’re messaging you another way, look into how to block users on that app/website. If there’s no option to block users, change your account name and privacy settings or just delete your account on that app/website.
It can be difficult to know how to respond if a classmate or someone you know is asking you for kinds of photos you don’t feel comfortable sending, especially if they keep messaging you even after you’ve told them no. The app “Zipit” has some pretty hilarious alternative responses for people asking for nude photos, like these:
Sending a funny (and sassy) meme can be a way to diffuse the tension and for the other person to get that you don’t want to sext. If someone is persistently bothering you for photos, or you feel like you don’t have a choice but to do what they say, be sure to tell a trusted adult about it. It’s better to talk to someone about it now and get help than to wait until it becomes a bigger problem, even if it means talking about something that may be difficult to share.
WHAT TO DO IF SOMEONE’S MAKING YOU UNCOMFORTABLE
First, never agree to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. You’re in charge of your life.
Even if another person seems to be a friend, they’re no friend if they’re trying to get you to do anything against your will or your best interests.
- If something seems off, trust your instincts.
- It’s hard to make a good decision when you’re feeling confused, so you should be as clear as possible in your own mind about what is and isn’t in your own interests.
- If you need help with this, talk to someone you trust such as a friend, sibling, teacher or parent. If you’d rather talk to someone anonymously, you can text “LISTEN” to 741-741.
- If you receive any unwanted sexual comments or communication online, the best thing you can do is remove yourself from the conversation.
- Understand your safety settings. If it doesn’t stop immediately, you should block the person and consider reporting it to the safety team of whatever website you are on. You should also consider talking about it with an adult you trust.
- If you’re under 18 and someone is pressuring you to engage in sexual activities (e.g. cybersex, photos, webcamming) or is sending you explicit material, don’t hesitate to call the police or the CyberTipline at 1-800-843-5678. They have advisers available 24/7 to help.
- If this person’s a relative or someone in your household and you need help, contact the police, go to RAINN.org/online or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).