Thursday, August 27, 2015

Love and War in Cyberspace

Students are quite adept at the practice of cyber-relationships. Email, IM, texting, gaming, Facebook, Twitter and other media have become popular communication methods for students, even replacing face-to-face contact for some. While such methods are appealing due to ease of use and apparent anonymity, students are often not aware of the potential problems that can result. Some of the bad things that happen in actual relationships, such as harassment, stalking, and predation, can also occur online. There is even evidence that social media use can result in negative mental health outcomes.

Here are a few tips on how to protect yourself in cyberworld:

  • Protect your identity. It is not a good idea to inform the whole world of your hometown, birthdate, high school, address, telephone number, credit card information, or Social Security number. Even just one or two of these items gives a predator all the means they need to find you. Also, be aware that some online services allow users access to programs that identify the physical location of other users.
  • If you are planning on actually meeting someone, request a photograph or other identifying information, and cancel your plans if he or she refuses or makes excuses.
  • Also, speak with the person by telephone before meeting with him or her. You can learn a lot about a person by paying attention to their social skills.
  • If you decide to meet someone, do so in a public place, tell a friend where you're going and with whom, and drive yourself to and from the meeting.
  • Look for warning signals of an unhealthy relationship, whether it be online or not.
  • Listen to your discomfort. If something is occurring online that makes you feel uncertain, disconnect.
  • Don't break the law or violate your code of student conduct. Threats and verbal abuse that occur online are still subject to these provisions, and you'll have written proof of it too!
  • Keep an online time limit. It's harder to do well in class when you're online for more than a couple of hours per day.
  • Finally, there's nothing like a real, live human being. Make time to relate to others in real space too!
To learn more about protecting yourself online, talk with someone at your IT department and counseling service.