Staying Safe Online
Lovingly written and submitted by Jay. Thank you, Jay!
The internet can be a scary place, and there's a lot that could go wrong. Unfortunately, many internet safety guides are incomplete at best and anxiety-inducing at worst. The intention here is to provide a semi-quick primer on internet safety, with links and ideas on how to get more in-depth if you so choose.
Personal Details: Do I need to be anonymous?
One important thing to remember about the internet — specifically social media spaces and public Discord servers — is you never really know who's looking at what you post. Privating your accounts and only allowing access to close friends is a simple way to avoid this, but what if you want to be a part of a bigger space or want to get your work (whether it be art, writing, an online store) out there? Not all of these points will apply equally to everybody, and it's important to keep your own use-cases in mind. But here's a rundown of information you should generally keep to yourself:
- Full legal name/last name
- It's important to keep these secret in the broader web, especially if you want to keep your personal and work lives separate! By knowing your legal name and/or last name, it's very possible people could find your relatives, school(s), place of work, and more depending on what online databases your information has found itself into.
- If you have a really unique first name, it might be best to keep that private as well.
- Obviously you don't want strangers appearing at your house, but as a rule of thumb you shouldn't post your general location online either; that means not saying the name of the place if you're going to a specific small business or local restaurant. Sometimes people post online if they're going to a big event, such as a concert or a convention. Think about waiting until after the event to advertise that you were there!
- A lot of the time, photos you take on your phone will have location data embedded in them. This is called metadata; it's important to remove this before posting photos! A quick and easy way to do this just involves taking a screenshot of the photo you want to post, then posting the screenshot. If you want to go more in-depth, you can use Exifcleaner.
- If you want to follow things like school-related pages on social media, it's a good idea to at least have a separate account for that sort of thing.
- Generally country/state is safe. Just be cautious, of course.
- Age, primarily if you're a minor
- This cannot exactly be used to track you, but it's important to avoid predators whenever possible. If you're a child/teenager, advertising that freely will often cause more predators to interact with you.
- Personal issues, family drama/information, etc.
- Not everyone has a good place to turn to when they need to vent, and that leads to many using social media as a way to cope. This is not inherently bad. If you are going to discuss things like personal mental health struggles, your triggers/traumas, or family issues, it's at least best to do this on a private account. Venting into the void likely won't help you in the long-term, and putting your most vulnerable moments out on the public web can (and sometimes will) be used against you.
- This one feels obvious, but it's important to reiterate that no customer service representative EVER will ask you for a password, whether that be over the phone, over email, or through a chat client.
- Use different passwords on different websites.
Talking to People Online
Not everybody on the internet is out to get you, obviously. But some people are, and it's important to be able to identify red flags and know what to do if somebody starts to make you uncomfortable. Coping with harassment and abuse is a bit out of the scope of this guide, but hopefully these tips can help you avoid some of it to begin with.
- Don't feed the trolls
- If somebody is harassing you or your friends, showing up in comment sections looking for a fight, or otherwise making insane, inflammatory statements and nobody knows who they are, they might be just trying to get a rise out of you. The best thing to do is block and move on; do not engage. You will not change anybody's worldview in a YouTube comment section, and by engaging with them (especially publicly) you've given them an opportunity to elaborate on their often hateful views and spread it to more onlookers. People who do this often crave attention; if you don't give it to them, they will normally stop, or at the very least move on to another target.
- It can be very fun to mess with these people and call them out publicly, but it's important you try to fight that urge. Even if you find it funny, people scrolling past may be upset by the things the troll says, and putting yourself into a cycle of hatred and constantly talking to people who make you upset is not good for you.
- Stay safe from malicious people
- If you are a child/teenager, and an adult online is acting overly-friendly, calls you mature, wants to share personal life details, or otherwise treats you like the center of their world, be wary. This is often a red flag, and people who do this are often dangerous to you and your friends.
- At any age, people talking about and asking for lots of personal details (real name/family life/trauma/age/location) shortly after meeting you is a red flag.
- Block people if they make you feel uncomfortable or upset.
- Avoid suspicious links and downloads
- Don't click fishy links! Always check the full URL of links sent to you, especially by strangers. Make sure, for example, a Paypal link you recieve DOES go to paypal.com — not 'paypal.xyz' or 'paypal.payment.co'. You can use URLvoid to check a link if you're unsure about it. You never know what a scam website might be doing with your data or device!
- Don't download/open fishy files! Always try to check with other real people (e.g. not from people in YouTube comment sections) if a program is legitimate or not. VirusTotal can help you if you already did download a file and are unsure if it's safe to open, but it's best not to download suspicious files to begin with.
Separation of Identity
The world is very connected now! Many schools, workplaces, and local event groups will have an online presence and may even require you to be a part of it. If you want to take part in these things as well as have your own online presence, it's a good idea to separate your identities.
- Using different names
- If you have interests you don't want real-life friends or family to know about, or you're closeted as queer and could be at risk if somebody found out, it's a good idea to use an alias online. If you have some accounts you want to share with people in real life and some that you don't, make sure you use different usernames/aliases with them, and don't link one to the other. Don't put your face on anything you'd be upset at somebody in real life potentially finding.
- It's a good idea to have at least two emails; one for personal use, which does not use your legal name, so that you can give and recieve email from people online, and one for 'professional' use. The professional email should have your legal/full preferred name and should be something you'd be fine giving to an employer. 32bit.cafe actually offers free email, if you're in the market for a new one.
Adblockers are obvious, but there's other helpful programs you can download or use to keep yourself safe online.
- Block trackers
- Block ads
- Avoid scams on Amazon and eBay
- Delete metadata
- More secure search engine