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The use of online technologies and social networking has exploded in recent years creating a big change in the way we connect with others. As with any change to how we do things, there are both pros and cons. Along with the benefits of being able to connect with friends at any time, any place, there are some risks and dangers that are useful to know about.
Wikipedia defines a social networking service as “an online service, platform or site that focuses on building and reflecting of social networks or social relations among people, who for example share interests or activities”.
The number of social networking sites seems to be growing all the time. Some popular ones at the moment include:
Social networking also includes online game sites such as Minecraft, World of Warcraft and Runescape.
With so many social networking sites around, keeping up to date with friend’s tweets, status changes, birthdays, check ins, event invites and latest photos can seem like a full time job!
Social networking has opened up lots of opportunities to interact with people but it also comes with risks. Below are some of the risks to be mindful of:
To reduce online risks it is important to consider what personal information you share with others and what information should remain private to you. It is important never to share your:
This personal information can make you easily found in the real world and can also lead to identity fraud.
Choose what information you want people to see. Get to know what the different privacy settings mean and update them regularly. Also, be mindful that social networking sites can change their privacy settings and you won’t always know this has happened.
Once a photo is posted online, it is out there forever and you can never be too sure what others might do with it. Your photos can be saved by friends, and often friends of friends, and they could turn up anywhere, any time in the future.
Each time you consider posting a photo, ask yourself, “Would I be happy to print this image and hand it out at school, work or a family bbq?”.
It is also important not to post photos of yourself in your school, sporting or work uniform. Any clothing that has badging or names on it can make you easily identifiable.
When you post photos, it is also helpful to think about the impact they will have on friends and/or family, before you post.
Keep sexting laws in mind when taking photos, sending or receiving images.
Taking, sending or receiving sexual images of a minor (under 18) is illegal in most states of Australia. If you’re found to have a naked or semi-naked photo of someone under 18 on your phone or your computer, you can be charged with a criminal offence.
If you forward the photo to someone else you can be charged with a criminal offence even if you delete it from your own phone. You can still be charged if it is a photo of yourself and you agreed for the photo to be sent.
Not all teens are aware of these laws and may inadvertently find themselves being charged.
You can also check out our Sexting and the consequences topic for more information.
Chat rooms and instant messaging can bring together people with similar interests and activities and can be a wealth of information. However, they can also attract online predators and cyberbullies.
Sometimes, online chatting to the same person over a period of time can make you feel like you know them really well. While this may be the case, it is still wise to stay cautious of new friendships developed online, until you can be sure they are who they say they are. It is very easy for someone to choose a fake name, age, location or even photo and pretend to be someone they aren’t.
It is easy for someone online to pretend to be someone they are not
If an online friend is asking you for personal information about your school, family, friends or location, it is reasonable to be suspicious of why they are asking. This is all information that shouldn’t be given out to someone you have met online.
If anything about an online friend makes you feel suspicious, it is important to talk to someone – perhaps an adult family member, a teacher or a counsellor at Kids Helpline.
Also, similar to other online networking sites, to stay safe in chat rooms and with online messaging it is important to be careful about what information you give out. You might consider using:
There are a few simple things you can do to try to keep safe online:
We can get help you get your head straight before you start to work out what to do. Often the first step we take in working with someone who is being bullied (or cyber bullied) is to really get to know and understand the situation that the young person finds themselves in. Research tells us that most teenagers are quite aware of how to stay safe online and what options are available to prevent cyberbullying. Our experience tells us that when young people are being bullied it can bring up strong emotions such as anxiety, fear, guilt and hopelessness. Often the victims do not believe that anything will help. Our counsellors can help you work through these emotions and get some control back in your life.
If you want to learn more about online safety, you can also visit the eSafety website that will help you learn more about how to keep safe online and what to do if you are being bullied or threatened. If you are not sure about what to do then contact us and one of our Counsellors can assist you.
There are no references in this article.
This topic was reviewed: March 2015