These days, everyone’s taking serious steps to keep you safe from getting (or spreading) this crazy new virus, and you’re not even really supposed to leave your house. So you’re spending a lot more time online: hanging out with friends, listening to music, watching videos, gaming, even doing a little schoolwork, waiting for all this to blow over. Just like in real life, there’s good stuff and bad stuff that can happen to you on the Internet. And just like with COVID-19, you can take steps to protect yourself.
Here’s the deal: there are creeps out there who are looking to take advantage of people (and they’re spending more time online right now, too). They may pretend to be your age and act like they’re your friend. They might ask you to send pics. You might reveal something private to them — only to have them threaten to share what you told them unless you do what they want. (This happens. It’s real. It’s called “sextortion.”) They may even want to meet up with you. It could seem cool at first, and then things can turn bad. Bottom line: If you’re under 18, and someone gives you something in exchange for anything sexual, that’s trafficking. We work with a lot of youth who met their traffickers online, many on Facebook, even.
We love using the term “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing.” Because we’re social creatures! You need to stay connected to friends and safe people. Keep doing that!
But remember: the safety of any online forum or app is based on how it’s used. Make sure you are only using these apps with people you know and trust in real life.
The world is full of dangers and full of stuff that’s good for you. It doesn’t mean we stop doing the good stuff. It just means we have to be smart.
5 TIPS TO STAY SAFE ONLINE:
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 counselor. 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.
PS: To help us spread the word, here’s a link to a letter you can send to television stations to ask them to run this PSA video. Here’s a link directly to a 30 second version of this PSA that’s ready to air. You don’t need permission to air this piece, but we’d love to hear from you (and thank you!) if you do. If you run this PSA, let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.