Socializing Online

The Internet provides rich opportunities for making new friends, finding romance, and sharing interests with others. This online socializing, just like it’s offline counterpart, can present some danger. When you first meet somebody offline you have visual clues as to their age, gender, and general demeanor. Online, you have to find new ways to assess social contacts, and you have to be cautious about how much you expose about yourself.

Overview of collaborative and social networking

There are several types of sites where people collaborate or communicate socially. The following definitions may be useful:

  • A wiki is a Web site that allows anyone visiting to contribute (add, edit, or remove) content. Wikipedia, for example, is a virtual encyclopedia built by user’s providing information in their areas of expertise. Because of the ease of collaboration, wikis are often used when developing group projects, or sharing information collaboratively.
  • A Blog is an online journal (short for weB LOG) that may be entirely private, may be open to select friends or family, or available to the general public. You can usually make settings so that visitors to your blog may or may not be allowed to comment on your entries.
  • A social networking site allows people to build and maintain an online Web page and create networks of people they are somehow connected to –their friends, work associates, other members with similar interests, and so on. Most social networking sites also host blogs and have social networking functions that people allow people to view information about others and contact friends.

Online dating

Millions of people of all ages have tried Internet dating services as a way to meet new friends and possibly find a lifelong partner. It's a great way to get acquainted with people you would never have met otherwise. When done with caution, online dating may even be safer than meeting people in the "real" world because you have more time to get to know someone before meeting him or her in person.

Dating online requires you take steps to protect yourself. The first rule of thumb is to trust your instincts when interacting with a potential date. Select your online dating service carefully. Look for an established, popular site with plenty of members and a philosophy that matches your own.

Here are some other safety tips.

  1. Maintain anonymity to protect your identity. Don’t include your full name, phone number, where you work, or detailed location information in your profile or during early communications with potential dates. Stop communicating with anyone who presses you for this type of information.
  2. Use the e-mail system provided by the dating service rather than your own e-mail address to maintain your privacy.
  3. Be smart about choosing profile pictures. Make sure your photos reflect what you want to say about yourself. Provocative pictures may attract the wrong people. Make sure that your images do not contain identifying information such as nearby landmarks or a T-shirt with your school or company logo.
  4. Check to see if a potential date has a good reputation among other daters on the service.
  5. Be realistic. Read the profiles of others with skepticism. As you correspond or talk on the phone, ask questions, seek direct answers, and note any inconsistencies. Look for danger signs such as a display of anger, an attempt to control you, disrespectful comments, or any physically threatening or otherwise unwelcome behavior.
  6. If a person becomes abusive, report it and block that person from contacting you again using the dating site settings.
  7. When you decide to meet, create a safe environment. Keep first dates short, and agree to meet in a public place during a busy time of day, Make sure somebody knows where you’re going. If your date doesn’t look like his or her photo, walk away and report that person to the dating service.
  8. If a date asks you for a loan or any financial information, no matter how sad the hard luck story, it is virtually always a scam and you should report it.

Formal dating sites are not the only places that people meet, and teaching online dating safety is particularly critical to protecting teens. Teens are becoming active online daters from as early as 14 years of age.

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Simply put, blogs (short for WeB LOGS) are online journals. Just as with any journal, the blog owner (or blogger) can hold forth on any subject he or she want to in words or drawings. But unlike traditional journals, entries can also include videos, links to Web sites, search tools, quizzes, and so on.

Each blog entry usually contains a title, a date stamp, and the poster's comments. They may also include a profile of the author and a photo or videos.

Eleven safety tips for blogging

1. Make sure the blogging site you use has clear privacy and security policies, and outlines how the site will respond to reports of abuse. The site should also offer site monitors and tools to help protect your safety, such as a way to control who has permission to see your blog, the ability to block harassing users and to turn on or off comments.

2. Read the Terms and Conditions of the blog site. Even some of the most popular blog and social networking sites have clauses that give the service the right to use anything you post in any way they choose. Choose a service that respects your right to your own content and your privacy.

3. If a blog is not set to be private, anyone can visit and comment on what the blogger is saying or posting. Most blog sites default blog posts to being publicly viewable and you have to change the setting to make your blog private. Think carefully about how public you want your blog to be. The more personal or identifiable the information you share, the fewer people you should share it with. If you choose to make your blog public, only disclose what you want anyone on the Internet to know.

4. Periodically review who has access to your site and make changes if necessary. Friends change over time and once trusted people may become less trusted.

5. Keep identifying details to yourself and close friends.

  • Don't use your real name on your site (or anyone else's real name, either). Create a nickname or screen name that doesn't attract the wrong kind of attention or allow someone to find you.
  • Don't give information that puts you on the map. Don't mention such details as your address, school, where you work, even your town name (especially if it's a small town).
  • Don't reveal any information that gives away your age such as your birth date or year of graduation.

6. On blogs that are set to be viewable by the general public be smart about the photos you post. Consider

  • What's in the background? Does the photo show your house number, a street sign, a license plate, or landmark?
  • Did you caption your photos with full names or other identifying details?
  • What's printed on your shirt? Don’t post photos that show the name of your school, sports team, or club.
  • Who's in the picture? If it shows friends or family members, you may be putting them at risk, too.
  • Can someone tell your economic status from the photo? This may be an enticement for offline crime.
  • Be careful about sharing your feelings if your blog is public. You can express  feelings in your blog in various ways. The poems you select, the music you list, the pictures you post all tell a lot about who you are and how you feel. This allows a predator who's on the hunt to find opportunities to prey on your vulnerability. Whether what you reveal is greed, sadness, or anger there is always a scam or exploit that can be tailored to take advantage of it.

7. Check out what your friends write about you in their blogs. They may be giving out your address or real name, indicate the school you both go to or perhaps they have a photo of you on their site with a caption indicating who you are. Any of these actions may enable someone to find you. Check the comments friends leave on your blog to make sure they don't give away personal details.

8. Be very cautious about meeting someone you only know through blogging in person. Keep first meetings short, and agree to meet in a public place during a busy time of day. Make sure somebody knows where you’re going and bring a cell phone. If the person you are to meet doesn’t look like his or her photo or is different from what they claimed to be (for example older or of a different gender), walk away.

9. If there's a problem on your blog or on a blog that includes information about you, report it immediately. No one has the right to threaten or upset you. If anyone (even someone you know) behaves threateningly or asks lots of personal questions, report the problem. If you're a minor, talk to an adult you trust. Every service should make it easy to report abuse; if your blogging service doesn't, consider switching providers.

10. Talk to your family about the kinds of information they are willing to make public and what they’d rather keep private. Posting information about others is not okay—in comments, photos, and so on—unless they agree to share that information. When asking permission to share, make clear who can see your site.

11. Before changing your settings to be more public, it is your obligation to again seek permission from anyone you may expose. If they are not comfortable with additional exposure, remove any content about them from your site.

Information safety videos
These videos are excellent overall safety videos. You can find more videos on the Ad Council’s site and on the site. Both sites also have Spanish language versions.

 For Adults

 For Young People


Evidence Bag




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Social networking

Social networking sites allow people to build and maintain online networks of friends and others with common interests. They open up great new opportunities to share, communicate, and meet new people. However, social networking products and services have widely different levels of protections for consumers and it is important that you understand the safety and privacy protection of any service you choose to use.

Some social networking sites exist for very specific purposes – like creating business contacts – but most of the popular sites offer a wide variety of functionality. These sites are likely to include hosting blogs, photo and video albums, classified ads, forums, e-mail, instant messaging, and entertainment.

Though teens make up a huge percentage of social networking as well.

Use caution when signing up on a social networking service

Consider carefully the “questions” that sites themselves ask users to complete in the registration process. Accepting the services defaults may expose more information than you intended. Understand what is required information, and what is optional. You should clearly understand why a Web service needs any of your personally identifiable information and how they may use that information before providing it.  Sometimes this information is used to provide you with a much more customized experience that suits your needs and sometimes the information isn’t needed for the service they are providing you at all – they simply want it for marketing purposes, to show to other members, or to sell.

It is often very difficult to remove information from sites if you later regret the amount of information you have shared. It’s best to be conservative in the information you share during sign up process; you can always add more later.

Spam and other malware on social networks

Advertisers understand the value of blogs. Legitimate advertisers pay to have their ads posted on the sites; disreputable advertisers often create fake user profiles and blog sites for their marketing campaigns. These run the gamut of legal to entirely illegal ‘offers’. Called splogs (spam+blog) these blogs used for selling are an annoying and potentially harmful form of spam.

Some splog ads appear as ‘comments’ that get spammed onto social networking sites. These typically include links to sites that may place malware on your computer, or may contain content that is offensive to you.

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Chat, discussion boards, and forums

What makes chat rooms, discussion boards and forums unique is the focus on a topic or geographical area. Groups are created by common interest rather than friendships. Though much attention is paid to sex chatrooms, there are thousands of chat topics to pick from, and you can often create new chat rooms on topics at any time. These can be a great way to share ideas and hobbies or chat with people with similar interests that you would otherwise never meet.

Like any site where users share information, these chats, discussions, and forums can be abused for a full range of crime including data mining for criminal intent, social engineering ploys, scams, and so forth.

Check out a Web site’s Terms of Use, privacy, and monitoring and abuse reporting procedures to understand the safety protections in place before joining a conversation. Some sites are well monitored for signs of abusive content or interactions; others have no monitoring at all.

If you are comfortable with the safety offered, create an account that does not identify you, avoid providing personal information, and have fun.

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Online quizzes and surveys

Quizzes and surveys you find online, including those on social networking sites, are usually entertaining and may seem like a harmless pastime. But quiz and survey companies are for-profit businesses. Because consumer information is a commodity, you should assume that information you enter in quizzes and surveys is being sold. Some sites allow users to create their own quizzes and surveys but in most cases they are still making money from the answers.

Just by reviewing the types of surveys or quizzes you take, a criminal may learn a great deal. Answering if you’re Hot or Not, a Fashion Disaster or Diva provides not only businesses in the fashion or teen magazine industries with information, it also provides information to a potential predator about topics that interest you. Some quizzes and your answers get displayed on your social networking sites, which is something to consider carefully if your site is publicly viewable as your answers may expose personal information to a criminal.

Quizzes and surveys on senior social networking sites are typically more financially or medically invasive. For example, the information from a medical quiz may be passed directly to pharmaceutical companies, online drugstores, or insurance companies. After answering a quiz you may find you receive spam targeted to your medical conditions or financial interests.

Make sure you understand the reputation, privacy policies, and terms of use of the site creating or hosting the quizzes. Before taking any quiz or survey consider the answers to the following questions:

  • Why did the company create this quiz?
  • What will they do with the information?
  • Who will see my answers?


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