The vast majority of us use the internet to socialize, work, learn, and play. But widespread use doesn’t necessarily mean widespread understanding. The good news is there are easy ways to keep your internet use safe and constructive. We’ve compiled some of our best advice here.
Table of Contents
1 – Interacting with old and new friends
2 – Security and passwords
3 – Shopping, banking, donating and contests
4 – Using apps and unknown websites
5 – Social media safety tips
6 – Media literacy and fake news
7 – Cyberbullying
8 – Smartphone use
- Be kind online. It’s OK to disagree, but don’t be disagreeable.
- If you get together with someone you first met online, have the first meeting in a public place.
- Know how to report abuse or block anyone who bothers you and others on social media.
- Be weary of anyone who says you or a family member owes them money, unless you are sure they are legitimate.
- Be very cautious before sharing intimate photos with anyone, even someone you trust. A friend can become an ex-friend and once an image is online, it may be impossible to have it removed. For more, see our advice on sexting, sextortion and revenge porn.
- Be cautious about sarcasm and humor. Something that may be funny in person, could be misinterpreted online
- Use strong and unique passwords (more at connectsafely.org/passwords)
- Don’t automatically click on links in emails. They can be fake and lead you to malicious sites. Type in the web address yourself. When in doubt call the bank or other company that sent you the email.
- Make sure your phone is locked. Secure your smartphone with a PIN (minimum 4 digit number), password, fingerprint or other method.
- Don’t respond to anyone who tells you your computer is infected with a virus even if they claim they’re with Microsoft, Apple or your internet provider.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. You can’t win a contest you didn’t enter and there are no Nigerian princes willing to send you money.
- Only shop at reputable online merchants. When in doubt, ask around.
- Never send cash or wire money, Use credit cards if possible, otherwise debit cards or legitimate payment services like Paypal.
- When shopping or banking look for secure sites where the web address starts with HTTPS. The “s” stands for “secure.
- Do some research before donating online to make sure the charity is legitimate and that the money is going to the right place.
- Never give out your social security number, medicare number or any other identification unless you’re sure it’s necessary, such as applying for credit.
- Read reviews before downloading smartphone apps.
- Pay attention to what permission smartphone apps ask for before you download or use them.
- Know and use the privacy settings for any device, app or service you use.
- Don’t provide any personal information on a website unless you are certain it’s legitimate and, even then, only if necessary.
- Learn to use each service or app’s privacy settings.
- Don’t let friends or strangers pressure you to be someone you aren’t. And know your limits. You may be internet savvy, but people and relationships change, and unexpected stuff can happen on the internet.
- Be nice online and treat people the way you’d want to be treated. People who are nasty and aggressive online are at greater risk of being bullied or harassed themselves. If someone’s mean to you, try not to react, definitely don’t retaliate. Use privacy tools to block anyone who is being mean
- Think about what you post. Sharing provocative photos or intimate details online, even in private emails, can cause you problems later on. Even people you consider friends can use this info against you, especially if they become ex-friends. And even if they remain good friends, they can be hacked, their device can be stolen or they could accidentally forward what you sent them.
- Read between the “lines.” It may be fun to check out new people for friendship or romance, but be aware that, while some people are nice, others act nice because they’re trying to get something. Flattering or supportive messages may be more about manipulation than friendship or romance.
- Avoid in-person meetings. The only way someone can physically harm you is if you’re both in the same location, so – to be 100% safe – don’t meet them in person. If you really must get together with someone you “met” online, don’t go alone. Have the meeting in a public place, tell a parent or some other solid backup, and bring some friends along.
- Be aware that not everything you read online is necessarily true
- Consider the source and if you have any doubt, so a little online research to see if it’s likely true
- Never share anything that you have any reason to doubt. It’s not only bad to share inaccurate information, but it also hurts your credibility
- Be aware of your emotional response to media. Just because something seems horrible, confirms your bias or makes you feel “right,” doesn’t make it true.
- For more, see ConnectSafely.org/fakenews
- Know that it’s not your fault. What people call “bullying” is sometimes an argument between two people. But if someone is repeatedly cruel to you, that’s bullying and you mustn’t blame yourself. No one deserves to be treated cruelly.
- Don’t respond or retaliate. Sometimes a reaction is exactly what aggressors are looking for because they think it gives them power over you, and you don’t want to empower a bully. As for retaliating, getting back at a bully turns you into one – and can turn one mean act into a chain reaction. If you can, remove yourself from the situation. If you can’t, sometimes humor disarms or distracts a person from bullying.
- Save the evidence. The only good news about bullying online or on phones is that it can usually be captured, saved, and shown to someone who can help. You can save that evidence in case things escalate.
- Tell the person to stop. This is completely up to you – don’t do it if you don’t feel totally comfortable doing it, because you need to make your position completely clear that you will not stand for this treatment any more. You may need to practice beforehand with someone you trust, like a parent or good friend.
- Reach out for help – especially if the behavior’s really getting to you. You deserve backup. See if there’s someone who can listen, help you process what’s going on and work through it – a friend, relative or maybe an adult you trust.
- Use available tech tools. Most social media apps and services allow you to block the person. Whether the harassment’s in an app, texting, comments or tagged photos, do yourself a favor and block the person. You can also report the problem to the service. That probably won’t end it, but you don’t need the harassment in your face, and you’ll be less tempted to respond. If you’re getting threats of physical harm, you should call your local police (with a parent or guardian’s help) and consider reporting it to school authorities.
- Protect your accounts. Don’t share your passwords with anyone – even your closest friends, who may not be close forever – and password-protect your phone so no one can use it to impersonate you. You’ll find advice at passwords.connectsafely.org.
- If someone you know is being bullied, take action. Just standing by can empower an aggressor and does nothing to help. The best thing you can do is try to stop the bullying by taking a stand against it. If you can’t stop it, support the person being bullied. If the person’s a friend, you can listen and see how to help. Consider together whether you should report the bullying. If you’re not already friends, even a kind word can help reduce the pain. At the very least, help by not passing along a mean message and not giving positive attention to the person doing the bullying.
- For more, see ConnectSafely.org/tips-to-help-stop-cyberbullying