What are social networking sites?
Social networking sites (like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat) are online ‘communities’ of internet users with similar interests. Members of the community create an online ‘profile’ which provides other users with varying amounts of personal information.
Once users have joined the network, they can communicate with each other and share things like music, photos and films. The sites are a fun way for you to stay connected with your friends, family and peers.
What are the dangers?
Social networking sites are seen as being very ‘cool’ by children and you may be pressured by your friends into joining them. The sites don’t actually present any threats that don’t already exist elsewhere online. The danger is that the threats exist in a new online environment you may not be familiar with.
As with most potential online dangers, the problems can start if you don’t look after your personal information properly. The risks you need to be aware of are:
cyberbullying (bullying using digital technology)
invasion of privacy
seeing offensive images and messages
the presence of strangers who may be there to ‘groom’ other members.
Registering and choosing safe settings
If you are about to join a networking site, there are things you can do to improve the security before you even start using it.
Select the strongest privacy setting available when you create your account. This will ensure that your personal information is only seen by people you want to share it with. However, be aware that some sites are totally open to the public.
Learn about and make sure you know about the safety tools available to you on the service you're using. This might include a block function to stop unwanted contact or the option of pre-approving comments posted onto your profile before they are made public.
Although you may be able to limit who has access to your profile, your profile/screen name shouldn't include your real name.
Staying safe while using social networking sites
The following guidelines will help make sure you are safe while you are members of social networking sites:
Make sure that you don’t publish personal information like your location, email address, phone number or date of birth
Make sure you are very careful about what images and messages you post, even among trusted friends – once they are online they can be shared widely and are extremely difficult to get removed
Keep a record of anything abusive or offensive you’ve received and report any trouble to the site management (most sites have a simple reporting procedure, normally activated by clicking on a link on the page)
Make sure you're aware that publishing or sharing anything which would mean breaking a copyright agreement is illegal
If you make an online friend and want to meet up with them in real life, your parents should go along with you to check the person is who they say they are
Be aware of online scams – offers which seem too good to be true, usually are.
If you suspect someone may be grooming you on a social networking site, or you are being stalked or harassed, you should contact the local police or Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) immediately.