Social Networks

What are the risks of Using Social Networking websites? (Facebook, Twitter etc)

Please take a few minutes to read the warning below and to take steps to increase your safety when visiting social networking websites.

Like most online activity there are risks to the users. In the case of social networking websites the risks include the unintentional disclosure of personal information, bullying or harassment, and in a small number of cases targeting of users by predators.

It is important to highlight that children and young people may not only fall victim to these harmful behaviours but they may also be involved in initiating, maintaining or perpetrating the same against other children, young people, adults and /or organisations.

1. Disclosing Personal Information

The way these sites work is based on users creating sites/profiles including their personal opinions and in most cased their photographs. This enables people with the same interests to meet others. Users’ profiles are also a way of attracting potential girlfriends or boyfriends. Many young people will send flirtatious comments to others having been attracted to photos on their site.

The problem with posting personal information to the internet is that as soon as it goes online, you have lost control over who will see it and how it will be used. Pictures can be easily be copied and displayed in a completely different context. Because of the digital nature of the photos, they can be even be altered or distorted.

Many social networking websites give the impression to users that they are in closed networks of friends. This encourages young people to disclose more personal information or to be more intimate with their communications than they would be if they thought it was a completely public forum. This is a dangerous fallacy.

The fact that certain websites claim to connect students from the same school means nothing. The information provided by users when they are registering is not validated. Anyone can create a user profile pretending to be anyone else. Moreover, anyone regardless of their real or pretend age can join as many school communities as they want.

2. Bullying and Harassment

Many social networking sites include modules where users are encouraged to rate profiles they come across on the site. This relatively innocuous capability can lead to users being sent harmful comments. As these comments usually relate to personal pictures posted on the websites they can often relate to physical appearance and ethnic origins.

There is also a tendency for offline bullying to be amplified online. Under the perception that there is a reduced likelihood of being caught and because they aren’t directly confronted by the consequences of their bullying, it is easier for children to engage in bullying online than it is in the offline world. Young people need to be made aware that despite the perception it is relatively easy to trace online bullies and that the consequences of being identified can be very severe. Many online bullying activities are illegal and are frequently dealt with by the police.

3. Being targeted by predators

Because there is no routine validation of users, personal information contained in profiles can be harvested by unscrupulous individuals who can use it as the basis for scams, malicious attacks, or in the worst case by pedophiles to groom potential victims. These people often operate by collecting small pieces of information at a time while slowly building up a bigger picture of their target without rousing suspicion. They can use multiple different identities to avoid detection.

4. Advice to Parents

As with all other internet safety issues the single biggest positive impact on children’s online behaviour is caused by an active engagement by parents in their online life.

Remember the chances of your child sharing their online experiences with you will be greatly reduced if they think that telling you about a problem will result in them being banned from using the Internet.

The more you know, the more you can support. Get your children to talk about what they use the technology for – whether it is a mobile phone, a PC or a video games console. Your children will enjoy the fact that they can teach you something and it is an opportunity to share activities with them.

Encourage your child to be careful when disclosing personal information. Being conscious of when and where it is all right to reveal personal information is vital, it is especially important when using social networking sites. A simple rule could be that your child should not give out any information or pictures that they wouldn’t be prepared to print on a t-shirt and wear into town.

Encourage respect for others. As in everyday life, there are informal ethical rules for how to behave when relating to other people on the Internet. These include being polite, using correct language and not harassing others. Make your children aware that despite the perceptions to the contrary, online bullying is easier to detect and trace than offline bullying. Online bullying can have more severe consequences for the victim because it is so difficult to escape from. Also because of the code of practice adopted by Internet Service Providers and mobile phone operators, companies are obliged to involve the Police when illegal activity is reported to them.

Know your child’s net use. To be able to guide your child with regard to Internet use, it is important to understand how children use the Internet and know what they like to do on-line. Let your child show you which websites they like visiting and what they do there. Acquiring technical knowledge could also make it easier to make the right decisions regarding your child’s Internet use.
Advice to Young People on Using Social Neworking Websites

Do know who can access your personal information – many sites allow you to decide which parts of your profile can be accessed by others. Assume that everything is public unless you are sure that it isn’t. Opting for private doesn’t always mean that only your friends can see your profile. In some cases it means that everything you put on your profile can be seen by everyone but only your friends can post comments or IM you.

Do trust your instincts – If it doesn’t look or “feel right”, it probably isn’t. If you find something online that you don’t like or makes you feel uncomfortable, turn off the computer and tell an adult.

Do be careful with your personal information – The problem with posting personal information to the internet is that as soon as it goes online, you have lost control over who will see it and how it will be used. Pictures can easily be copied and shared with 100,000 of others at the press of a button. Because of the digital nature of the photos, they can even be altered or distorted. Don’t post any pictures that you wouldn’t want everyone you know to see, that includes your parents and your teachers.

Don’t assume everyone you meet online is who they appear to be – The fact that certain websites claim to connect students from the same school means nothing. The information provided by users when they are registering is not checked. Anyone can create a user profile pretending to be anyone else. Moreover, anyone regardless of their real or pretend age can join as many school communities as they want.

Don’’t post information that could be used to find you offline – without meaning to, you can give away information that could help someone to find you. Be careful of posting photos with things like car registration plates or identifiable landmarks in them. Avoid posting messages to blogs along the lines of “I usually walk home down the lane by the railway tracks”. There are some people out there who will piece together little snippets of information about you over a long period of time.

Don’t reply to messages that harass you or make you feel uncomfortable! – Even though you may really want to, this is exactly what cyber bullies want. They want to know that they’ve got you worried and upset. They are trying to mess with your head. They want to think that they are important by being able to get a reaction from you. Don’t give them the pleasure.

4. Important safety tips:

* Never share your password with anyone.
* Adjust privacy settings to match your level of comfort, and review them often.
Be cautious about posting and sharing personal information, especially information that could be used to identify you or locate you offline, such as your address or telephone number.
* Remember people are not always who they say they are. Use caution when accepting or sending friend requests, and keep in mind that it is always risky to meet anyone in person whom you don’t know through real world friends.

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