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Defining Internet Safety Issues

The Internet is a wonderful resource for both adults and children, and a great way to stay in touch with friends and family.  BUT, the Internet can also be a very dangerous place.  Cyber predators, bullies, stalkers and con artists are online all the time, waiting to find their next victim.  Unfortunately, they don’t have to wait too long to find a potential target.  

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 23% of nursery school children in the United Statesuse the Internet, 32% of kindergartners go online, and by high school 80% of children use the Internet.

These kids often don’t realize the risks they face online.  Law enforcement agencies are doing what they can to catch the people who victimize children online, but there is more to protecting children than just the arrest and prosecution of offenders.  It is vital for parents and educators to learn about the dangers facing kids on the Internet, and talk about how to stay safe and smart. 

File-Sharing / Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Sites 
Ironically, one of life’s first lessons is sharing but, in today’s ultimately connected world, the very act of sharing has taken on a life of its own and not always in a positive way. Dozens of programs exist for people to “share” music, movies, personal information and more. These are called File-Sharing or “Peer-to-Peer” (P2P) programs; and they are very popular.  These programs make your computer files available for download by anyone else using similar software and vice-versa.  But there are some very serious risks associated with these programs.

  • The user’s computer could be exposed to viruses or spyware.
  • Children could be allowed access to sexually explicit content.
  • Sensitive personal information could be made available to anyone who has the same file-sharing software.
  • Copyright infringement that could result in the steep fines or penalties.  According to U.S. copyright law, the fine could reach $30,000.

The best tip for staying safe while file-sharing is to stop and think before downloading files through these networks.  Be sure to talk to kids about the risks, and research the software that is most popular.  Examples include: LimeWire, Napster, Friendster, BearShare, Audiogalaxy, Gnutella, Gnuieus, MySpace, Madster, BitTorrent, Morpheus, Gnotella, Facebook, Mactella, KaZaa, YouTube, SwapNut, and iMesh.

Find out more by visiting the following websites:

Chat 
Chatting with someone online is just what it sounds like, a text conversation with another person on the Internet.  These conversations primarily take place through Instant Messaging (IM) sites, via Internet Relay Chat (IRC) networks, or in an online chat room. With IRC, users select a client (program) that will allow them access to the IRC Network, where they can communicate with people from all over the world. Instant Messaging is primarily a direct one-to-one communication, but it can also be used for multiple-user discussions.  The main difference between IRC and IM is that with IM you must know the user name of the person with whom you wish to talk. 

Chat rooms are public areas on the Internet where two people can “talk” in real time, by creating a single log that is universally read by multiple users.  Each person who ventures into an online chat room needs an ID – a unique nickname (or alias) that allows him or her to be recognized while participating in the Internet community.  But people can often enter a chat room without verification of who they are. This type of anonymity is a draw for potential predators who often seek out young victims on these chat rooms and engage them in conversation.  These predators often lie about who they are, giving the child the impression that they are a child themselves.  The predator’s goal is often to meet the child in person.  They could ask for personal information including where they go to school, their home phone number, or even request the child send them sexually explicit photos. 

Statistics show only 13% of children realize when they have been fooled about the age of someone they met on the Internet. 

When it comes to the risks, the best thing you can do is “chat” with kids about their e-pals, and reinforce the fact that they should NEVER share any personal information with anyone they meet online.  Also be sure to talk about the importance of using proper “netiquette” while online, always being respectful of others.  They should never lie about their age, and if they feel uncomfortable with conversation at anytime, tell them they should stop chatting online and start chatting with you!

For more tips, visit the following sites:

Online Gaming
Much like a chat room, gaming sites offer communication components as well.Consoles such as Xbox360™, PLAYSTATION®3 (PS3™), and Nintendo’s Wii™ give players the chance to play… and chat… directly with the competition.  In some cases, players can use voice controls and speak to fellow competitors. 

As interactive gaming becomes more popular and younger gamers begin to use the games, online sexual predators will begin to converge and try to track them there.  Game-chat is the same as traditional online chatting; allowing anonymous strangers to say just about anything they want to whoever will listen.   What starts as a seemingly innocent conversation about the game can quickly turn into something else.  These predators try to form relationships, and might start asking for personal information like a password or email address.

There are a number of things you can do to help children stay safe while gaming online.  Show interest in the games, maybe try playing one yourself. Before kids start playing, agree on some house rules and consequences if these are broken.  Supervise younger children more closely.  

For more tips, visit the following sites:

Child Pornography 
Child pornography is any visual depiction (including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer generated image or picture), whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor.  More than 20,000 images of child pornography are posted on the Internet every week, and once that image is posted, it can’t be deleted.  It could be circulated around the world, which means literally millions of people can see that image, making that child the victim of sexual exploitation a million times over.  According to the Department of Justice, the distribution and receipt of such images can be done almost anonymously.  As a result, child pornography is readily available through virtually every Internet technology including websites, email, instant messaging chat rooms, and peer-to-peer/file-sharing.

Children, especially adolescents, are naturally curious and might seek out sexual content on the Internet.  Some predators will use that curiosity to “groom” a child for sexual exploitation.  They are in chat rooms, on gaming sites or social networking sites in search of potential victims. These predators listen and empathize with their victims, lowering their inhibitions.  Once they feel comfortable, the predator will slowly introduce sexual content into their conversations with the child.  There are other predators, though, who immediately engage in sexually explicit conversation with children.  They might ask for a photo of the child or request a face-to-face meeting. 

It is vital that both adults and children understand that an online predator can be any age or sex, come from any socio-economic background, and could be married and even have kids of their own. 
If you think a child could be at risk, talk with them about your suspicions.  Remind them to never share personal information with someone they have met online, and report any offensive or dangerous emails. 

Visit the following websites for more information:

Cyberbullying
“Cyberbullying” is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.  Cyberbullies use e-mailinstant messagingtext messagesblogsmobile phonespagers, and websites to harass a victim.  Cyberbullies might also try to steal a victim’s password or log-on information to hack into the victim’s personal accounts online and wreak havoc. 

Cyberbullies can be relentless, and the trend is growing.  A recent i-SAFE survey (can we automatically link here to www.isafe.org) states 53% of kids admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online while 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. It might be retaliation; it might be something the bully decides to do for “fun”.  Any way you look at it, it’s wrong.  There is no way to “take back” something once it has been sent, and the results can be devastating.  The following link tells the story of a Massachusetts family who is dealing with the loss of a son who took his own life because of cyberbullying.  It was published by the Boston Globe newspaper in 2005. www.boston.com/news/

Talk to kids about cyberbullying.  If someone is sending messages or images that are indecent, lewd, or obscene with the intent to abuse, annoy, harass, or threaten, REPORT IT. Tell your Internet service provider and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline at www.cybertipline.com.

Social Networking
Social networking websites are, in a way, like an online community of Internet users. Depending on the social networking website in question, many of these online community members share a common bond, whether that bond be hobbies, religion, or politics. Some of the better known websites include:

Once you are granted access to a social networking website you can begin to socialize. This socialization may include reading the profiles/profile pages of other members or even contacting them.  Unfortunately, this is also very appealing to potential predators.  Children should avoid posting any information that could lead someone to them, including their last name, the name of their school or the town they live in.  Posting a photo could also help a predator “decode” the identity of a child.  Once a photo is posted online, it can be downloaded by just about everyone who views it.  That means the child could lose control of the image and it will stay in cyberspace forever.  People can forward it, post it on their own sites, and even make changes to it.  

Talk to your child, find out if they have created a profile or are thinking about creating one soon.  Surf the networks with them, talk about what you see.  Let them know that it is okay to talk with you about their experiences online.  For more tips, check out the following websites:

NOTE: MORE.net provides Missouri educators with NetSmartz materials. The NetSmartz Workshop is an interactive, educational safety resource from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) and Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) for children aged 5 to 17, parents, guardians, educators, and law enforcement that uses age-appropriate, 3-D activities to teach children how to stay safer on the Internet. For more information, visit www.more.net.