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Staying safe online

Most of us are on the internet a lot these days. It’s a pretty sociable place to be.

You can chat to people on the other side of the world, find out major news on Twitter first, share music, blogs and videos of sneezing cats/fainting goats. It’s like the whole world is our communication oyster.

computer userThat said, you do have to be careful how you use it. The amount of information we put online about ourselves can actually put us at risk, attracting unwanted attention, spam, or cyberbullying. Also, people we chat to aren’t always what they seem.

So, it’s really important to know what not to do and what to do if something goes wrong or seems dodgy.

What can go wrong?

The internet is obviously a great way of keeping in touch with people, but you do have to be careful about the sort of information you share and who you share it with.

Posting photos and videos

This is one of the best things about the internet but you have to be mindful of which pictures or videos you publish, especially if you or people you know are in them.

Sometimes you can upload stuff you wish you hadn’t. Once something is on the internet, even if you take it down later, it exists in cyberspace and people can copy it or find it.

The consequences of this can go from slightly mortifying (everyone seeing your drunken singing) to potentially damaging (your mother or future employer seeing your drunken singing) to dangerous (people identifying you or using your image for inappropriate purposes. Eeek!)

People can  encourage you to post or send them inappropriate or sexual stuff, and that can really put you at risk. If you feel uncomfortable with something someone asks you to do online, don’t do it. Block them and report it. Look for a ‘report this’ button somewhere on the page.

Don’t forget that nothing is permanently deleted. Even sites like Snapchat which claim to remove seen files can’t guarantee this. Everyone knows how to screen-grab a snapchat, but people have also been able to retrieve sent photos at different times. 

As a rule, if you’re not happy for your granny to see, it shouldn’t really be online for public view. Always check your privacy settings so you can control who sees what.

Scams

You can get messages from people offering you things, like an uncle you never knew leaving you lots of money. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Never send anyone your bank details.

Be careful about subscriptions to text services or competitions. It can seem like it’s free at first and then end up taking up all your phone credit.

People can  follow your movements if you blog, use check-ins or post statuses about your whereabouts. If they know stuff like where you live and when you’re going away, they can use information like this to break into your house.

Be really careful with any personal information you give. If certain websites get hold of your email address, you can get bombarded with spam.

Inappropriate stuff/people

The internet, like the real world, is full of great people and not-so-great people. If someone you’re chatting to starts saying sexual stuff that makes you uncomfortable, sending you images or asks you to do something that worries you, save the conversation and stop talking to them.

Report them on the website and if they keep contacting you call the Gardaí, as they have people who deal with that sort of thing.

If you come across a website that freaks you out or makes you uncomfortable, close the page and if it’s bothering you or you think it’s illegal or wrong, talk to someone about it.

How to stay safe

  • Avoid giving out personal details – credit card details, full names, addresses or phone numbers. Use nicknames on forums and other sites if you can. If you’re using a credit card online make sure it’s a secure site. If someone is pressuring you to give you these details, it may be a good idea to question why they need them.
  • Meet up in a group – if you decide to meet up in person with someone you met online, arrange to do it somewhere public with lots of people. Take a couple of friends with you, or make sure there’s a group of friends nearby if you need them. Meeting in places like the park where there mightn’t be anyone around can be dangerous. If it doesn’t go as you planned, it’s harder to get help or get out of the situation.
  • Avoid chatting with people who make sexual references – you never really know who you’re talking to online, they might well be older or not who they seem. If someone starts saying sexual or inappropriate stuff, stop talking to them. They might end up asking you to meet face-to-face and it can be really dangerous. If they won’t leave you alone, contact the Gardaí.
  • Manage your account and app settings – all social media platforms have ways to ensure privacy and restrict access to people you  don’t want viewing or interacting with your account. Look in the frequently asked question (FAQ) section, or account management section. Also you can often google how to change a setting or block someone and the answer is easily available. It’s also worth bearing in mind that settings change on sites, so you might want to check them every so often.

Starting your own blog or website

Loads of people have their own blogs and websites now, and it can be a really good way of getting experience writing about something you’re into. Remember don’t give too much away about yourself so you’re not at risk.

  • use a pseudonym/nickname
  • avoid mentioning the name of your school/workplace
  • don’t be too specific with where you live – especially if it’s a small town, eg saying you’re from Dublin is grand because the area is large but saying you live in Ballymun isn’t.

See Webwise for more tips on staying safe and read cyberbullying if you’re getting hassle from someone on the internet.

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This article was last reviewed on 29 April 2017

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