Some thoughts on internet safety.

Can you blog post on safety on internet, facebook and privacy, etc?

Here are some things I think I know about Internet safety:

Regarding making friends:
  • Social interaction on the internet is a legitimate and life-enchancing form of social interaction
  • People on the internet don’t exist in isolation; they are real people and shouldn’t be treated as fictional characters (even if you think they’re lying about who they are. Lying is different from not existing)
  • Since they are real people and real relationships, it’s possible to get hurt by toxic relationships or even just mistakes. Relationships have consequences.
Regarding meeting people in person
  • Meeting people from the internet isn’t exceptionally dangerous. It’s presented in the media and by scaremongering organizations as likely to get you killed, but that’s not remotely accurate.
  • Making mistakes about who to trust, and going off to secluded locations with people who aren’t trustworthy *is* dangerous. But that’s not a unique internet problem; people do that in bars all the time.
  • That said, if you’ve been talking to someone very intensely or for an extended period, it’s easy to get a misleading impression of how trustworthy they are in person. You don’t know what someone is like in person until you have spent a significant amount of time interacting with them in person.
  • For that reason, it’s important to go slowly - trust built in online interactions shouldn’t automatically transfer to in-person interactions. 
  • Online interactions are real, but they’re not interchangeable with in-person interactions. A lot of people are better online than they are in person; a lot of people learn to have good interactions online before they learn how in person. And that’s ok, but important to be aware of.
Regarding predators:
  • There are a lot of predatory people on the internet, and other places.
  • The difference on the internet is that people don’t need as much accumulated reputation in order to meet people.
  • In person, people mostly meet through friends. Online, people can interact directly. Which means you have to rely on your own judgement more, and if you want to rely on your friends’ judgement in the way you would in an offline social circle, you have to tell them about the people you’re talking to.
  • For that reason, it’s usually best if you don’t talk to someone in complete isolation, it’s safer if other people know who you are talking to.
  • Some people will try to trick and manipulate you and lie about who they are in order to hurt you. This is not a problem specific to the internet; people do that all the time in person too. But it’s important to know that it happens online too – and you have to learn different skills for detecting it, if in person you rely heavily on affect to tell who to trust (which isn’t actually as reliable as people tend to think it is anyway)
Regarding toxicity:
  • There are huge numbers of all kinds of people on the internet, including really toxic people
  • Sooner or later, you will attract aggressively toxic people
  • If you feel an obligation to interact with them, their toxicity will hurt you
  • It’s important to learn who is and is not good to talk to, and to learn how to disengage with people who are harmful
  • Spending all of your time arguing with toxic people probably won’t make the world better, but it probably will make your life worse.
  • The block button is important. Learn how and when to use it.
Regarding potentially dangerous personal information
  • Don’t give anyone your credit card number. If you need to give someone money for some reason, use PayPal. However, PayPal will reveal your legal name, so don’t use that if you need to remain anonymous. You can use gift certificates (or maybe bitcoin, but that’s not usually very useful).
  • If you’re violating serious taboos with things you post, people might go to great lengths to find out who you are and create problems for you. Don’t make it easy for them, and don’t assume that you’re safe just because you’re not in the same room.
  • Putting pictures of your children online doesn’t endanger them in any way, but it’s likely to embarrass them later. So it’s often not such a nice thing to do. A litmus test: if it was a picture of you, and you’d object to your mother showing it to your boyfriend, don’t post it to Facebook if it’s a picture of your kid.