by Larry Magid
Blogging is great. Just be smart about what you share
(revised June 2006)
Unlike the articles we write for parents and teachers, we don’t have to give you a course in blogging basics. As a teen, you’ve probably visited your share of blogs or “spaces,” and there’s a good chance you may have your own blog. If so, congratulations. Even adults like us who have some concerns about bloggers’ safety and privacy applaud the fact that teens are increasingly taking advantage of the Internet’s great communications tools. Millions of teenagers maintain their own blogs. In fact, a study done at Georgetown University shows that more than half of all blogs are maintained by people 13-19.
So let's talk about safety and privacy. As you know, when you're online you're out in public, and that's definitely true if you have a blog that's accessible to anyone on the Net. We don't need to tell you that there are creeps out there who might want to jeopardize your personal safety or steal your or your family's money. It's just a sad fact of life on the Net. Federal law-enforcement people confirm that online predators are very interested in teen blogging. That's why some of the blogging services have privacy features that let you control who can access your blog. And that's what this is about – giving you control. Check with your service to see what types of restrictions you can put on your blog and use them. In most cases it is possible to communicate with your friends or your friends' friends without having to open yourself up to the entire Internet.
One of the nice things about blogs is that you can post just about anything. But just because you can post anything doesn't mean you should. Remember, anything you post can not only be seen by others but can easily be copied and stored. So, what you post can be held against you. Something that seems very cool right now may not seem so cool two or three years from now, when you're sending around applications for schools or jobs. So think just a bit about your future before you post that incendiary comment or that inappropriate photo. Besides, what may seem appropriate or even funny to friends right now can be used against you when there are disagreements, breakups, etc. – in blogs, email, IMs, and even file-sharing networks.
As you know, people online are not always who they appear to be so be very careful about the type of relationship you establish or information you give to people you meet through your blog or blogs you visit. The same goes for in-person meetings. The fact is you just shouldn't meet people in person who you only know from the Internet. They may be great but you never really know, do you? If you do, make sure you do so in a public place and bring along at least one friend – the more and bigger the better. Your school's football team should do the job nicely. Never, ever, agree to meet someone alone. Seriously, you really need to be careful because you never really know who an online “friend” may actually be or what his or her intentions are.
You also need to be aware of your blogging service's rules or "terms of service." Violating them not only risks your getting kicked off the service but they're usually there for some good reasons: to protect you, to protect others and to keep you on the correct side of the law. Most of the rules are pretty obvious – don't send spam, don't distribute viruses and other harmful code, don't stalk, threaten or harass anyone and don't turn your blog into a porn site. While everyone in America – including teen bloggers -has First Amendment rights, you still need to be careful about what you say, especially about others. Being mean to other people is not only, well, mean, it can in some circumstances be illegal if you cross certain lines.
One last thing. You may not want to share your blog with your parents, but they do have some legal rights and obligations. We recommend that you do give them the web address of your blog and it's a very good idea to talk with them about what you're doing and reassure them that you understand basic safety and privacy rules. Not only can that make for peace in the family, but they might learn something along the way. Who knows? Maybe you'll learn something too.