Don't get caught in the Web
Tips for protecting yourself online - a Straight Goods advisory
Chat rooms can a great place to build virtual communities, but can also be dangerous because of a generally unwarranted sense of security and anonymity. Too often children and adults alike reveal information about themselves that could jeopardize their safety. The good news is, there are precautions that we can all take to protect ourselves.
With the threat of predators lurking in chat rooms, here are some tips for protecting yourself and your family online
Never give out identifying information - including your name, email address, phone number, and home address - in a public chat room. Even if the information is intended for just one person, there is nothing to stop others from recording this information and using it to harass you or your family. Most chat rooms have a private message command that allows you to communicate one-to-one. Use this if you decide that you do want to share this information.
Be aware that lots of seemingly safe details about yourself can amount to the same as one obviously risky disclosure. Your description, your occupation, your employer, your neighbourhood, your favourite restaurant - when taken together these facts can make it easy to track you down.
Use a pseudonym and an anonymous email address for your web socializing. This gives you another layer between your online life and your real life.
Adults may pose as children, men may pose as women, someone who lives in the same city may claim to be on the other side of the country
Remember that people don't always represent themselves accurately online. On one hand this is the beauty of the Internet - it allows us to fantasize and be creative. On the other hand, some people mask their identities to seem less threatening and gain the trust of others. Adults may pose as children, men may pose as women, someone who lives in the same city may claim to be on the other side of the country.
If you have children or teens who use web chat rooms, get to know the services they use. Some chat rooms are monitored or hosted by site staff. In these rooms, private message features are usually disabled so that all conversation is out in the open. Hosts work to control harassment, enforce the site's standards of appropriate topics for discussion and may mediate conflicts between guests.
Be explicit with your kids about what is classified information. Barbara Moran, the author of Internet Directory for Kids & Parents (IDG Books), suggests posting a list of off-limit info next to the computer to remind children and teens to be aware of themselves and their safety.
Keep the computer that your children use in a shared part of your home. This makes it easier to check in with them without seeming as though you're checking up on them.
While there are dangers associated with the web, there is also the tendency to overreact and miss out on all the wonderful experiences that it has to offer. "[W]e have to be realistic about the risks," says Parry Aftab, in her book The Parent's Guide to Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace (McGraw-Hill). "There's a fine line between being a cautious parent and being a paranoid wreck."
Aftab is the president of Wired Kids, an initiative of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that seeks to educate the public and law enforcement agencies on online safety issues. She wants to see parents empower themselves and their children to take charge of their own safety, rather than turning to censors to make the net safe.
"We shouldn't see monsters under every cyberbed and in every cybercloset," she says. "We need to recognize where the real risks are, and remember that many things are only annoying, not dangerous."
Get More/Do More
Child Find Canada Internet safety site: www.childfind.ca/educate/infohwy.hte
Cyber Angels: www.cyberangels.org
Families Against Internet Censorship: home.rmi.net/~fagin/faic
Get Net Wise: www.getnetwise.org
University of Oklahoma's Department of Public Safety Internet tips: www.ou.edu/oupd/kidsafe/start.htm
Safe Kids: www.safekids.com
Web Wise Kids: www.webwisekids.com
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