Teen guide to safe social networking

You already know how to blog — do you know how to do it safely?

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.

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