The ever evolving world of internet, gaming and social media can provide young people with a range of benefits, in lots of ways.
For example, you can virtually connect with family and friends from all over the world and even meet new people with similar interests and hobbies, it can give you a platform for getting involved in issues that mean a lot to you and can help you find your voice and identity, and there is more information at your fingertips than ever before which is helpful for learning!
The communities and interactions that you can create online can be precious and helpful for boosting and developing your self-confidence and social skills.
Here comes the BUT… There are also dangers and risks to be aware of so you can keep yourself safe!
The dangers online can start if you don’t look after your personal information properly. The risks you need to be aware of are:
- Trolls/keyboard warriors – cyberbullying
- Catfishing/ stolen profiles/grooming – identity theft & Invasion of privacy
- Exposure – Seeing things that make you worry, health & addiction.
- Sexting/ sending nudes – sending or receiving explicit photos.
- Sad-fishing – sharing emotional issues to gain likes/sympathy
- Gaming & Online security – hacking accounts, and stealing personal information
- Online radicalisation
These things can happen on their own or more than one can be happening at the same time. Let’s look at these things in more depth…
Online Trolls & Keyboard warriors (cyber bullies)
Online trolls are similar to the bullies you might find in school. These people go out of their way to cause arguments on social media by saying unkind, insensitive and offensive things to upset people and get reactions.
Most of the time these people would be polite or quiet when met “in real life”; but when they are protected by hiding behind a fake profile or being anonymous, they can be incredibly aggressive. Often they will make sexist, racist or homophobic jokes to stir up an argument and spark emotions in people. There has been lots of things in the news and on TV about the effect that trolls can have on our mental health such as causing people to feel low or anxious, knock confidence, feel suicidal or develop eating disorders.
The next time you are about to post something on social media, ask yourself would I say this to the person face to face? Is this kind? Is this necessary? How would I feel if somebody said this to me? ….. After all it’s nice to be nice and gets us a lot further in life!
What shallow souls some of you are. It’s sickening to critique anyone off their appearance. You should be ashamed of yourself. Your words are cutting deeper than you know and are possibly leaving lifetime scars!
So what can we do about these trolls?
The goal of a troll is to get their victims involved in an online argument – so the most effective way to deal with them is to ignore them. This may be harder than it sounds, especially when someone has said something to make you angry.
Rather than feeding trolls and letting them lure you in to an argument, your best bet is to simply block the troll to prevent them seeing or commenting on your posts. If you are unsure how to block people you can type in “how to block someone on…. Instagram/snapchat/Tik Tok/Facebook” (choose whichever one you need) into google and it will bring up step by step guides to help you.
Some people try to argue back or outdo the trolls, hoping that they can talk their way out of trouble. But sometimes, these people cannot be reasoned with because they are looking to start a fight after all! … In the long term, it is far easier (and actually more effective) to simply block the troll, be the real winner and move on with your life.
(stolen profiles and identity theft)
Catfishing is when someone uses images and information (often taken from other people’s social media profiles) to create a new identity online, sometimes people use an individual’s entire identity as their own.
Why do people catfish?
- Insecurities – Some people might choose to catfish because of their own personal insecurities. They might consider themselves as ugly or not good enough and feel more comfortable using a fake profile or another person that they consider ‘attractive enough’ or ‘worthy’.
- Dating – People create fake profiles on dating sites to catfish people into sending explicit images to be used against them as blackmail or to deceive someone into going on a date.
- Grooming – When someone creates a fake online profile for grooming they are trying to get into relationships with young people whilst pretending to be someone appealing to that young person. Because this is not face to face, the catfish can be and do anything they want!. They often view your profiles to see what types of things you share and use that as a way to create a relationship with you. So, there you are falling in love with and sharing personal information or emotions with someone you really don’t know, you begin to trust them and feel as though you really know this person. Your new online “friend” may then want to “meet up” or even ask you to “hook up” this is where it can get quite scary and very dangerous when meeting up with strangers who aren’t who they say they are!. (there is more about grooming in the exploitation part of this website (Insert link to exploitation 13 section here)
- Hide their identity – Somebody who wants to hide their identity when using social media might use another person’s images and/or information. They might want to hide who they are to troll others, cheating in relationships or in some cases, they might catfish with the intention of trying to exploit others.
- Revenge – Some people use catfishing as a tool of seeking revenge on their ex partners or people who they think “deserve” it. Those people often create social media accounts that use the victim’s images and personal information to try and humiliate them or damage their reputation.
- Exploring sexual preference – When someone is confused or curious about their sexuality, they might create a fake profile so they can explore their curiosity without having to reveal their true identity.
Some things you can do to spot a catfish…..
- Do a reverse image Google search. This is a quick and easy background check. Right-click their photos, copy the URL, and paste in the box at images.google.com. Google will then search for other sources of that image online. If nothing is found, try a few photos and see what crops up. Instagram images aren’t indexed so Google won’t be able to search them. There are other apps you can download for this like Veracity
- Check their check-ins/people they tag/shares. Everyone should have some sort of sign that they have a life outside of their social media. We’ve all checked in somewhere or tag our friends & family in things. If they’re lagging in the check in’s or tags this can be a warning that they aren’t really who they say they are.
- Their posts? Everyone gets a post from someone every now and then, even if it’s from your great aunty sharing a funny meme, wishing you happy birthday, or being tagged in photos. If no one has posted, then this has got to be a cause for concern.
- Their mates? Do you have any friends in common? If so, can they vouch for them? If they only have a few random contacts with no mutual friends, it’s usually a tell-tale sign of something fishy!
- Trust your gut! Make sure everything they’re telling you adds up. Inconsistent stories is a sign that their identity is built on lies.
- Lending a fiver to your best mate for lunch is one thing, but if this new online ‘friend’ is already offering you money or gifts or asking you for money this is a bit worrying.
So what can we do about this?
It can be hard when you have been a victim of an online catfish because you may have built up a relationship with the catfish. It can make you feel embarrassed, let down, shocked, hurt, ashamed and sad. But it happens to a lot of people and you are not alone. If there has been any criminal activity like fraud or image sharing you need to report it to the police, take screenshots of the conversations, their profile, and images so that the dodgy account can be closed down and dealt with. Tell someone you trust about it so that they can support you (preferably a trusted adult) and treat it like a break up.
- Don’t consider the catfish’s feelings – they’ve used you!
- Block the catfish’s profile on your social media and only accept friends that you know.
- Block any new friends that you met through the catfish
- Block any telephone numbers that belong to the catfish
(what we see and how long we spend online)
We all use the internet as a way to distract ourselves and sometimes it can be helpful, but sometimes there is some dark and sinister content that we can stumble across whilst we endlessly scroll. For some people seeing bad news, violence, sad stories, conspiracy theories, trolls and spending too much time online can cause people to suffer poor mental health like panic attacks, anxiety & depression and it can be really hard to escape from all of the doom and gloom that we see.
Research into it shows that spending too much time online can damage our physical health too because it can affect our sleeping patterns, make us lose motivation, affect our vision, cause unhealthy diets. And it can be really addictive!
There is no official set amount of time advised for screen time but it is advised that devices should not replace or interrupt our sleep, exercise or family time. There is also advice that devices should be avoided an hour before bed to give your eyes and brain time to wind down so you can sleep better.
So what can we do to help ourselves?
- Read/watch positive things too.The media tends to focus on the worst news. We can counteract all of the doom and gloom by taking steps to remind ourselves that things aren’t always that bad. Watch or read things that make you laugh or smile and make you feel good. Trying to stay positive can help brighten your view of the world.
- Read or watch, then relax.If watching the news or certain topics leaves you feeling worried/sad/anxious, find a new way to relax after you have spent time online like reading, talking to a friend, or watching your favourite TV series. This will help to stop you over thinking things and switch off.
- Monitor your moods and behaviours.Don’t let negative emotions sneak up on you. Notice if you are slipping into low mood behaviours and take action before it gets overwhelming.
- Do something else!Put down the device and do something different! Just because the internet is on twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, doesn’t mean that you have to look! Know when you have had enough screen time and take some ‘you’ time with no online distractions. Look after yourself. Self-care is more necessary than ever these days.
Sexting / Sending Nudes
Sexting means sending or sharing sexually explicit images of yourself or other people. When you send a sexual message, photo or video to someone else this is sexting. It could be a picture of you, but sometimes people send pictures and videos of other people. Sexting can be done with a friend, boyfriend, girlfriend or someone online and there a lots of things that can be classed as sexting.
- Being partly or fully naked or being in your underwear
- Taking pictures of posing in sexual positions
- Sending nudes or dick pics.
- Talking about sexual things you want to do or are doing
- Doing sexual things on videos, video calls or live streams.
Sometimes a nude image of someone can get shared and passed off as someone they know but in fact it is a nude image of an unknown person that was found online, and someone else’s name has been linked to it.
There are times when a person might have sent their nude image to someone, but didn’t really feel like they wanted to. This might be because someone felt pressured into sending it, or felt that they had to do it so that they could fit in or be accepted.
It is not okay to feel pressured into sexting, pressure might feel like:
- You owe someone something
- Worried that they won’t like you if you don’t give in to sexting
- Not wanting to hurt their feelings
- Being nagged to sext
- Worried about getting hurt or in trouble if you don’t sext
- Being blackmailed with money or gifts.
How can you approach it?
Part of a healthy relationship is being able to share how you feel when you are worried or scared. If the other person who is pressuring you doesn’t consider your feelings this can be a warning sign that you are in an unhealthy relationship or that the other person doesn’t really respect you.
If someone won’t stop asking you to sext and send nudes after you have told them you don’t want to, block them and don’t feel bad. This is their issue, not yours!
If after doing this the person still tries to contact you and asks you again, report this to a trusted adult or the police who can help you take more action.
What about the laws?
For people under 18 it is against the law to send nudes or sexual videos of you or others to anyone else. It’s also against the law for anyone to save a nude or sexual video of you. Even if it’s a selfie or they’re under 18 too.
You can get in trouble if you threaten to share a nude, even if you don’t actually do it.
The police can decide if they’re going to charge you with an offence after sexting has been reported to them. But the law is there to protect you, and not to get you into trouble.
If you’re in a relationship and you are both under 18 it is unlikely that the police would want to prosecute either of you, but remember some relationships don’t last forever, but the images do! Sometimes relationships can have messy break ups and nudes/ videos can be used as revenge or blackmail against you.
Sadfishing is a term that started in 2019, it’s used to describe a recent internet trend where someone shares their personal problems to get sympathy/attention/likes on social media.
This term is not helpful when it is used to suggest that someone is just “trying to get attention” because this response has the danger of making people feel uncomfortable about talking about their issues. Getting support from our friends and family is extremely important when we are feeling low/sad/anxious and talking to friends and family can really help to ease some of our burdens.
But, there are some valid and helpful points that can be made about sharing problems on social media platforms without seeking support from loved ones or qualified services and counsellors…..
We need to be careful about who we share our problems with because sharing problems on social media can make us vulnerable and has the danger of attracting trolls and unwanted attention from people who could use it against you or to groom you into a sinister relationship. For example, if you were to share a status/meme/quote which tells everyone that you are feeling annoyed/angry/upset about a particular issue such as say….a fall out with a friend. This gives a perfect opportunity for someone wishing to groom you to target you and start talking with you. They might slide into your DM’s with a message like “I know what you mean, my friend has upset me too” this could come across as a genuine person wanting to talk with you but be careful you don’t get drawn into these things, always be cautious with what you share on social media not everyone is genuine. Or this could be a perfect opportunity for that troll to target you now they know you are feeling vulnerable and what will make you react.
There is also a danger of you getting the wrong advice from friends who don’t have your best interests at heart (Frenemies!) and are not trained or experienced enough to support you.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t share how you are feeling with others….you absolutely should reach out to friends, family and trained support services. If you have a friend that shares emotional issues a lot on social media or If you yourself want to talk about anything and feel more comfortable doing this online, we have created a list of trusted sites/apps and services who are there for everyone 24/7 at the bottom of the page.
Many computer games are played online against other players over the internet. These can be played on consoles, PC’s, laptops, tablets and mobile devices. Most players use a character or gaming name so generally you are already unaware of who they really are.
To add an extra attraction to the multiplayer functions, players often talk with each other through chat or with a microphone & headset. These functions are included in many games from simple chess and cards to shooting and adventure games where thousands of players can join in at the same time. Online games now also involve spending real money to purchase in-game property.
What are the risks of gaming?
There are anonymous strangers and unfiltered, unmonitored discussions, the potential dangers of this are:
- Giving away personal information like passwords, email address, home address or your age.
- Downloading ‘cheats’ which you think are to help you but they might contain viruses or spyware.
- Being groomed or exploited
- Downloading illegal copies of games which can lead to you getting in to trouble with the police, having your account suspended, or having your console blocked by the servers.
- Spending your parent’s money on in app purchases without realising.
- ‘Griefing’ when players troll you to make your gaming session less enjoyable.
- Playing games for many hours at a time with the danger of becoming addicted.
How can I keep myself safe while I Game?
- Make sure that your device has protection against viruses and spyware with antivirus/antispyware and firewalls.
- Play only with legal versions of games that have been bought from official sites/stores.
- Choose a user name or profile that does not reveal any information about yourself.
- Use strong passwords that have numbers and special characters in them.
- Don’t reveal any personal information to other players.
- Always be cautious when making new friends.
- Know when you have had enough! When the fun stops or it starts to disturbs your sleep, meal times, relationships or school work…it is time to take a break from gaming.
- Make sure you stick to games that are suitable for your age. Viewing scary or violent content can start to affect your wellbeing and make you feel anxious, worried, panicky or stressed.
Staying secure online.
Keep it locked up!!
You wouldn’t leave your windows or front door wide open so don’t leave your phone or computer unlocked. These things hold a lot of information about yourself like your name, address, birthday, who your friends are, your hobbies, texts, photos and videos and messages online.
All of this information is valuable to hackers, snoopers and fraudsters…keep it safe!!!
What security dangers are there?
- Hackers – these people try to break into your device to steal your personal information, your files or cause trouble.
- Phishing – this is when someone sets up a fake website that looks exactly the same as the real ones like Facebook or PayPal. They then send you an email with a link to the fake website and tell you to log in and update your details….as simple as that they now have your details.
- Virus’s – these are evil pieces of software that break into your computer and mess it up. It can make your screen freeze, delete files and cause havoc on your device.
- Ratting – this is when software is put on your computer so someone can access your device remotely (it’s as if someone has a remote that is controlling your device from miles away) if your device has been ratted they can spy on your private files, delete things and even turn on your webcam. Scary stuff!
- Clickjacking – this is when criminals try to hack or Rat your device by using links that look interesting or offer free stuff. When you click on the link the dangerous software can be installed on your device.
What can you do to protect yourself?
- Set strong passwords using capital letters, numbers and special characters
- Don’t click on links that you think look odd. There are websites and you tube videos that show you how you can tell if a link or URL is fake.
- Always use anti-virus software to protect your devices.
- Don’t share your passwords with people and make sure that you keep your devices locked when you are away from them.
- Use different passwords for different sites and never write them down where people can find them.
There is a high chance that you will meet new people online or visit websites that can lead you to see terrorism or extreme (strong or fantasy) political, racist or homophobic views. There is a risk that someone could target you to radicalise you to join extremist groups and use propaganda (misleading or fake facts) to draw you in to their way of thinking so you can be recruited into these groups. It is illegal to be involved in terrorist groups and you could get yourself into very serious trouble! You can find out more about this here: www.ltai.info/what-is-prevent
If you or anyone you know has or is being targeted online to join extremist groups you must report it to the police if it is an emergency or report it online here: www.ltai.info/contact