Lead by the UK Safer Internet Centre, each year Safer Internet Day falls on 8 February, and this year the focus is on exploring respect and relationships online.
People use the internet for various things, such as research, shopping, to watch films and listen to music, to access social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and enter and talk on online chat rooms, which often leads to online relationships.
To ensure these relationships remain safe and a positive thing in your life, you need to remain respectful to the people you talk to, and ensure they treat you with respect as well. If not, it could lead to online abuse which can take the following tree forms:
- If someone you talk to online becomes abusive towards you based on your race, gender, age, sexuality, appearance, disability or religion, it could be discrimination.
- If someone has an effect on your emotions through verbal abuse, harassment, stalking, cyber bullying or controlling behaviour, this could be psychological abuse.
- If someone is using your online relationship to get something out of it for themselves, such as grooming, mate-crime, sexting, hacking or financial abuse, this could be exploitation.
If you are in an online relationship, CHANGE PEOPLE recommends a few simple things you can do to keep yourself safe, including:
- understanding that a virtual friend or partner is still a stranger who could put you at risk,
- remembering that you are in control,
- keeping your profile secure and checking your security settings often,
- being careful of accepting friend requests from people you don’t know,
- never sending pictures of yourself to anyone, when fully dressed or naked,
- never giving someone your address or location,
- saying NO,
- thinking about what you say about yourself and other people, and
- keeping your personal information hidden and private.
You should also remember the following tips when keeping safe online in general:
- Set up the security settings on your mobile or computer, such as a pin, fingerprint or face detection.
- Be careful about email and text scams.
- Never send your bank details to anyone you don’t know or trust.
- Always log out of your accounts.
- Don’t click on links and popups if you don’t know what they are or who they are from.
- Don’t download anything illegally.
- Change your passwords regularly.
- Install antivirus software.
- Never give out personal information.
- Talk to someone you trust if you are unsure.
Keeping safe on online dating websites and apps is very important, and RAINN, one of the largest anti-sexual violence organisations, recommends talking to someone you trust, like a close family member or friend, if you are thinking of signing up to an online dating website or app. They also recommend avoiding connecting with suspicious profiles, who you should rather block or report.
When entering a relationship online, you should take your time, wait to share any personal information and look out for the warning signs that you many be unsafe, such as:
- someone asking you for money,
- someone asking you to enter a serious relationship or marriage without knowing them well,
- someone asking you lots of personal questions,
- someone you don’t know giving you lots of compliments,
- someone asking you for photos and videos of yourself, dressed or naked,
- someone asking to meet you in a private place, and
- suspicious messages or behaviour.
If you do feel that you are unsafe, that you may have a problem of if you are being abused, discriminated against, bullied or exploited by someone you met online, the first thing you can do is to come offline. You can also report the person, or block them. It is important to talk to someone in your support network, like a friend or family member about what is happening, or you can contact the police and talk to them about the issue.
You can also get in touch with internet safety organizations, such as the UK Safer Internet Centre who, in partnership with Childnet International, Internet Watch Foundation and South West Grid for Learning, has three main functions, including:
- an awareness centre that provides advice and support to children and young people, parents, carers and schools,
- a helpline to provide support to professionals working with children and vulnerable people, and
- a hotline, which is an anonymous and safe space to report and remove child sexual abuse imagery and videos.
You can access their detailed and very helpful resources here: https://saferinternet.org.uk/