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We know that the Internet isn’t a scary place. Come on, it’s where we found that amazing picture.

But it’s 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’s can be especially hard to figure out what the other person is actually thinking.

Unfortunately, there’s no app that sends you Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 2.36.56 PM 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.



4 SAFETY RULES OF THUMB

 

Here are 4 tips to keep in mind.

1. HAVE AN EXIT PLAN.

If you’re in chatrooms, make sure that your screen name is different from your real name, that way if you get into a conversation that’s making you uncomfortable then you can exit it without the fear of someone googling your real name. If you’re talking to/following people you don’t know on apps like Vine and Twitter, avoid posting things that reveal where you are (like the name of your school, where your soccer team practices, etc). That way, if someone is talking to you in a way you don’t like, you can block them without worrying about them finding you another way.

2. BE A TINY BIT PARANOID.

It’s one thing to have friends see you at a party, because you know who’s there, and the context. But if you send/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.

3. TELL SOMEONE!

If you are ever made to feel uncomfortable or think that you may be in danger, tell someone 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, and get help than to wait until it becomes a bigger problem. If you’d like, you can also talk to someone anonymously by calling the CyberTipline at 1-800-843-5678.

4. STAY IN SAFE ONLINE PLACES.

Just as you wouldn’t walk down dark alleys alone at night, you should avoid creepy places online. You could stumble on explicit images/videos you don’t want to see (or maybe are even illegal!), or end up in a chatroom with people who are looking to take advantage of you. Follow your gut, and don’t walk down the alley ways of the Internet.



8 RED FLAG PHRASES

 

How do you know when someone has bad intentions, instead of someone who’s just really friendly? Here are some signs that you can watch out for when talking to someone:

1. “Find me on Kik/Skype.” 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 be asking if you’re alone to send you content they wouldn’t want your parents or other people seeing or 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. “Do you have 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 that 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.

6. “What’s your phone number?”

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 often times, even 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 just do this one thing.

(Adapted from ConnectSafely)



SEXTING

 

Most of us now 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 the whole school.

Sexting is a bad idea because 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 screen shots 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 do something about it 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.

Alternative responses:

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:

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 1.22.32 PMScreen Shot 2015-04-21 at 1.22.46 PMScreen Shot 2015-04-21 at 1.22.56 PM
 

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, even if it means you have to confess something you did or it’s difficult to share, and get help than to wait until it becomes a bigger problem.



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).


PORNOGRAPHY

 

It’s easy to come across x-rated photos and videos, even if we’re not looking for them. Maybe you’re just scrolling through Youtube, or Googling a seemingly harmless search like “Dick’s Sporting Goods.” And whether you’ve seen it by accident or on purpose, there’s no denying that porn is all over the internet.

What you may not have thought about is how pornography can affect the way you view your friends or boyfriend/girlfriend and how you interact with them.

Recent studies on the effects of viewing pornography suggest that youth who watch porn may develop unrealistic ideas and expectations about sex. When a group asked 500 18-year-olds in the UK about online pornography, a lot of them said that they felt like it lead to unrealistic attitudes towards sex, and a lot of the girls said they felt like it pressured them to look and act a certain way.

When we have unrealistic ideas about sex, it can make us vulnerable to doing things or treating others in a way we don’t actually want to.

That doesn’t sound so fun does it?

Though people have different experiences with and opinions on pornography, we suggest you talk to someone you trust about the role it has in your life (if any!), especially if you’re struggling with staying away from pornography even when you want to. It might feel awkward to bring it up, but it will be so much easier to have people supporting you. Websites like Fight the New Drug have helpful resources and stories to remind you that you’re not alone.

Also, some pornography may feature images of someone who didn’t want to be or know they are being shown in this way. If you come across a image or video that’s concerning, especially if it involves a young person, find a trusted adult and talk to them.



MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT

 




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