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Surf safely: if you post photos and videos of yourself online, or even just send IMs and e-mails, beware: It's easy for anyone to view the images and read your messages.


Last year, Dave *, a 13-year-old from Denver, Colorado, made a digital video for a girl he liked. In the two-minute recording, he read a poem he wrote and asked her out on a date--in rhyme. When the girl received it, she showed it to her friends. They thought it was so funny that they posted it on YouTube and invited the entire school to view it.

Dave was humiliated. Now, there's no way he can get the video offline. Multiple copies are floating around cyberspace--and they will be there forever.

By the Numbers

What happened to Dave is happening more and more. It's not because more guys have crushes than ever before. It's because the Internet is playing a bigger and bigger role in teens' lives. According to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 93 percent of teens use the Internet; 55 percent have a profile on a social networking site like Facebook or MySpace; 47 percent have uploaded photos where others can see them; and 28 percent have their own blog. That's loads of personal digital content that teens are creating.

Using the Internet for social purposes has many amazing aspects. It's a fun and easy way to communicate with friends, and to share pictures and videos. It also helps you meet people with whom you have similar interests.

"It's the best way to make plans with my friends," Brianne Brand, 15, of Kingman, Arizona, tells JS. "I feel like I can say anything to them there without worrying someone will overhear me."

It is really cool to be able to present yourself to the world any way you want to. Plus, it's exciting to be part of a vast social network.

Too Much Information

But there are risks to online activity. People often put too much information out there. Like Dave and Brianne, they think the Internet is more secure and controllable than it actually is.

"Teens write about private feelings and post suggestive pictures of themselves, and then assume that only the people they send it to or that they allow to see it will have access," says Katya Gifford of CyberAngels, an Internet safety organization. "The reality is that once you put something out into cyberspace, you lose control of it."

This is true in a variety of ways: E-mails, for instance, can be forwarded with the click of a mouse. Photo-sharing sites that allow you to control who sees your pictures don't prevent those people from downloading the photos to their own computer and doing whatever they want with them later. You or someone else can post something personal about you to a Web site. Even if it is erased, the search engines often keep a cached, or archived, copy that will keep showing up in search results.

A big downside to online overexposure is real-world embarrassment. "Everyone has different sides of their personality, and you don't always show all sides to all people--for good reason," says Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer and the director of WiredSafety. "But online, people put all sides of themselves out there and don't realize that everyone can see them."


A Permanent Record

This can cause problems. School officials may become upset, for instance, if they read students' comments about them. A friend who notices that he or she didn't get invited to your slumber party could feel hurt, and parents may get angry if they see a photo of their kid doing something he or she shouldn't.

Putting too much personal information online can also open you up to being cyberbullied. "Sadly, friendships don't always last forever," Aftab says. "Someone who was a friend could become an enemy after a little fight. If that person had access to all of your pictures, e-mails, IMs, and videos, they could potentially use them against you."

The fact that search engines archive results, making a permanent record of everything online, is another concern. "You have to assume that any information you put online will be there forever and that anyone will be able to find it," Gifford says. Not only can this lead to head aches for you now, your future could also be adversely affected. When you go to apply for a job or an internship, the company could easily google your name. You wouldn't want them to see a picture of you in your bathing suit on Flickr! Future boyfriends or girlfriends might look for you too. In the more distant future, how will you teach your own children good behavior if they can see online videos of a younger you acting inappropriately?


Comfort Level

Security experts like Gifford are not suggesting that you stop using the Internet. Go ahead, she says, but with this caveat: "If you wouldn't be comfortable hanging something on a billboard outside your house so your family, friends, teachers, and neighbors can see it, don't post it online."

Instead, she advises, make sure you pay more attention to security and privacy. One thing you can do is be more discriminating about whom you allow to view your profile. "I never approve anyone as a friend unless I know him or her personally from school," Brianne says.

In other words, it's important to keep your cyberworld based in the real world. But not everyone does this. "A big problem is that the social networking sites encourage people to have as many friends as possible," Aftab says. "Sites like YouTube evaluate success based on the number of page views you get. This is fun, but it is contrary to security issues."

The guy who has 534 MySpace friends, for instance, might look popular. But he's also offering up a lot of personal information and pictures to a good portion of the Internet population, and that could lead to trouble for him.

Then there is the issue of protecting your personal safety. Putting identifying information online (your name, address, age, phone number, and school name) opens you up to worse dangers, such as online predators and people who want to steal your identity.

So what's a teen to do? Well, enjoy your online social life, but keep your important information to yourself. And before sending an e-mail or an IM, or posting a blog entry or an online album, always ask yourself how you'd feel if your soccer coach, Sunday school teacher, or grandma were to see it. If you'd be OK with that, then send it off!

Words to Know

* adverse [adj]: causing harm.

* blog (n): Short for Web log; an online personal journal.

* caveat (n): warning.

* cyberbully (n): one who uses online content to cause harm.

* cyberspace (n): a computer network; the Internet.

* digital (adj): characterized by electronic, especially computerized, technology.

Think About It

1. What are some of the risks of online social networking?

2. How can you keep safe and protect your privacy in the digital world?



* Be as anonymous as possible. Don't post any identifying information, such as your name, address, phone number, school, team, or town.

* Don't use your real name for your username.

* Don't post anything online that you wouldn't want your family, friends, teachers, and neighbors to see.

* Remember that whatever you post online stays online in one form or another.

* If you doubt whether you should post something, ask a responsible friend or adult for their opinion.

* Make sure to log out of your e-mail accounts and social networking profiles after using a public computer.

* JS changed Dave's name to protect his privacy.

Talking to friends and potential friends online is an important part of every teen's life these days. But because it may seem safer and more anonymous than face-to-face contact, kids may not recognize the perils of the World Wide Web: Anything you put out there is out there for good, and there is no stopping its spread.

* Common Cyber Dangers

Merely being online can leave you vulnerable in a number of ways. Here are a few of the dangers, with suggestions from CyberAngels about how to protect yourself against them.

* Cyberstalking: If a person harasses or threatens you repeatedly, that person is a stalker--even if the contact is made only online. The danger is that the contact can get physical. If you think that a cyberstalker knows where you live, contact local law enforcement or the FBI immediately. Log off and stay offline for at least 24 hours. Important: DO NOT REPLY to the stalker.

* Phishing: It's just like it sounds--the "phisher" uses deceptive devices to lure you into giving up information you wouldn't ordinarily divulge. The bait might come in the form of e-mails or pop-up boxes that look like they're from a bank or other reputable business. Beware if an unknown contact asks you for information like bank account numbers or passwords. Report any suspected phishing e-mails to the Federal Trade Commission at

* Identity theft: Be very careful about giving out essential personal information online, such as your Social Security or credit card numbers. Cyber thieves can use this information to run up enormous debts or commit fraud in your name. The consequences of fraud could haunt you for years. When submitting any sensitive data via the Web, always check that the URL starts with "https" and look for a lock icon in the bottom right of your browser to make certain it's secure. Take care that you know who you're dealing with.

* Other Suggestions

* Change your passwords frequently. When using a public computer, always be sure to log out of your account and quit the browser before leaving.

* If you receive a communication that says a product or service is free, chances are that it isn't. * For more information on cyber safety, check out these Web sites:,, onguardon,, and

* Content-Area Questions


1. Why has communicating over the Internet become so popular? Why does it feel "safe" to teens? What are its limitations?

2. If you were to set up your own social-networking site for teens, what safety requirements would you establish? What would you do if a user broke the rules?

3. What kinds of things that you talk about with your friends would you find embarrassing if your parents or future employer found out about them?
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Title Annotation:Teen Scene
Author:Paulos, Leah
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Date:Jan 19, 2009
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