27 February 2014
The internet is a big place, with plenty of sites to browse and loads of interesting things to look at. You might feel more confident online than you do in person, but if you’re not careful, online grooming is a real possibility. Would you have a conversation with a stranger in person, or publicise your whereabouts to the world if you had to shout it rather than write it in 140 characters? Probably not. The ‘stranger danger’ message which is taught to us from a very young age doesn’t seem to carry on to the internet.
The Telegraph recently described internet safety education as being as important as the other ‘R’s in skills education. As a generation, we’re much more internet savvy than our parents. We understand how to access a range of different technologies, but there are still gaps in knowledge when it comes to keeping safe online.
Anything you post on the internet has the ability to travel fast. Even things which aren’t shared, liked, retweeted or reposted will be seen by more people than you might think. To prove the point, a teacher from Tennessee posted a photo on Facebook asking anyone who saw it to like the image. This wasn’t to get likes; this was to show how fast your picture becomes out of your control. Within days her photo had been liked by hundreds of thousands of people, as well as shared by thousands more. And you can be pretty sure not everyone who saw it liked it either…
We’re sure you’ve seen some viral videos. They’re the funny YouTube clips which you send to your friends and see all over your Facebook stream. The views rocket up and there’s no way of predicting which videos will become popular. This phenomenon can happen with anything at all – including private photos you share with someone you think you can trust.
Anything which you post online can be shared elsewhere without your knowledge or permission. Make sure that your public profiles are limited, and you don’t give away any information which can be used to find you in real life.
It is very easy to be persuaded into doing things which you don’t feel entirely comfortable with, because you feel like you’re safe and detached. In fact, the person at the other end of your online conversation might feel the same. Because they have anonymity and because they don’t know you in person they might be more bold than they would usually. And therein lies the problem.
Keep it online
Staying as anonymous as possible is a good way to do this. Social networks such as Facebook are designed to be used by people who know each other. They give the possibility of including a lot of personal information including your hometown, full name, mobile phone number as well as copious amounts of pictures. Keep this separate from your other online activities.
Online grooming isn’t obvious. It’s a gradual process where someone will deliberately lull you into a false sense of security. An adult will contact a child or a young and develop a friendship with them the purpose of abuse. You might not realise at first what is happening. Later you might feel guilty, and as if you’ve done something wrong. Learn to recognise the signs, and be cautious when speaking to strangers online. If you think you’re the target of online grooming or you want to find out more, speak to us by phoning 0808 800 1037 or use our live chat at www.rosecampaign.org.
If you do form a relationship with someone online, the best way to keep yourself safe is to make sure it stays that way. That is, don’t meet up with anyone you have met online, and don’t give them too much information. If you do decide to meet up with someone you don’t know in person make sure someone knows where you’re going and how long you’re going to be, or better yet, bring someone with you. Meet in a public space like a café so that you can leave easily if the person isn’t who they have said they are.
Grooming isn’t the only risk of course; pictures you send are no longer under your control, even if you use an app like Snapchat which is supposed to delete images after sending. These pictures can be saved, and then shared round. Your personal information can be visible to anyone if you’re not careful with privacy information and what you share in the first place. The best principle is not to share anything online that you would mind other people seeing.