hot topic: online safety!
This week’s Hot Topic was a discussion about online safety and cyber security! As a group, we feel this is a very important issue for young people, especially with so much of our lives happening online right now due to Covid-19.
It goes without saying that socialising online is important, and people can have positive digital experiences. However, there are also a lot of potential dangers and negative side effects from spending lots of time online. It’s good to be aware of what these are and do things to help protect yourself.
After discussing our experiences, we asked our young people to help us come up with some ideas and safety tips for protecting yourself and others online. Before we get move on though, it’s probably worth explaining what a ‘Hot Topic’ actually is and why we run them at Connect Alloa!
Wait, What's a HOT TOPIC?
Basically, a ‘Hot Topic’ is a discussion activity where we present a subject to our young people and ask them some questions, getting them to reflect on their own experiences. We’ve covered topics such as mental health and wellbeing before. Young people are welcome to join in the discussion if they feel comfortable to do so, but we also appreciate and encourage active listening.
As a group, we believe it’s important to get our young people thinking about and engaging with difficult and challenging issues. It takes confidence to speak up in front of a group with your opinions and ideas, so this exercise helps our young people build their social skills in a supportive environment.
We aim to host a ‘Hot Topic’ discussion every month or so, covering a range of different issues. If you have a suggestion for a topic we should discuss, please let us know! We are always open to suggestions and we really appreciate it when our volunteers, peer mentors and young people get involved with the planning process.
Covid-19 and Online Security
So back to our most recent Hot Topic! The first question we asked our young people was: ‘Have you or anyone you know had any issues online over the past year or so?’
Unfortunately, most of our young people said that they had, especially when using Instagram and playing online games.
One of our young people mentioned that making friends online can be a difficult process, since some people aren’t who they say they are and can use fake accounts.
We also talked about account hacking and spam messages, especially over Instagram messenger and text. A lot of people at group had been sent spam messages before, including receiving text messages from fake Royal Mail and DPD numbers asking them to pay a fee for an undelivered parcel.
It’s important to be wary of suspicious messages, even from people you know! If you’re ever in any doubt, don’t click on links or attachments within a message. You should either ignore the message or, if it’s from someone you know, ask them if they meant to message you. They might not have realised they’ve been hacked.
If you have been hacked, it can be a good idea to message people and put up a post to let your friends know, so they don’t open any links or messages the hackers sent using your account.
Quite a few of our young people also mentioned playing online multiplayer games, many of which have voice chat features that allow you to talk with other players.
One of our young people mentioned getting ‘doxxed’ during an online voice chat, where their account information was leaked to other users who sent them a lot of spam messages. Luckily, they were using a VPN that protected their location details (a VPN – Virtual Private Network – is a security feature that makes your internet connect private and can help protect your personal data).
When asked to reflect on the experience, the young person said they weren’t too bothered by it, but it was the sort of thing that could be difficult to deal with for other people depending on the situation.
Another one of our young people mentioned that they had heard a lot of offensive language while using voice chats. A lot of these games are also played by older teenagers and adults, so the language is not always appropriate for younger people.
Have you had a negative experience or relationship with online platforms in general?
We then asked our young people to think more generally about their online experiences. Have they ever had any other negative or worrying experiences online? Do they feel like they have a good relationship with using online platforms?
Some of the things that got mentioned included bullying and self-esteem issues, which can have a detrimental effect on mental health and wellbeing. One platform that got mentioned a lot was Instagram.
We had one young person tell us about an incident where someone was added to a snapchat group full of people making fun of their Instagram account posts. It was mentioned that online bullying can sometimes feel worse if you know the person or people behind it, compared to when it’s from random strangers. For example, it can be easy to ignore strangers you never see versus people you go to school with.
Someone also mentioned the fact that just because a conversation or argument starts on social media or an online gaming platform, doesn’t mean it won’t end up having real life consequences.
Tips for staying safe online!
Having discussed all these experiences, we then asked our young people to come up with some online safety tips for themselves and others. They came up with some great suggestions!
- Keep your social media accounts private.
- Don’t use voice chats in games with strangers. Turn the voice chat volume down or leave an online situation if you don’t feel comfortable.
- Use a VPN for added security.
- Don’t open suspicious links or messages, even from people you know!
- Report abusive or worrying behaviour to an adult and the platform you are using.
- Think about what you post online. Once it’s online it can be very difficult to take back or delete. Even if you do delete a post, other people might have taken screenshots and shared it elsewhere.
- Turn off location sharing information on things like Snapchat. Or, only share this information with trusted friends and family.
Finally, we asked our young people if they ever take breaks from being online and using social media.
We were happy to hear most of them say yes, they do take breaks and think about their relationship with online platforms. One person described it as a ‘detox’, especially if you have been feeling unhappy online.
Some of our group members mentioned that doing another activity can be a good way to take a break from being online all the time. We had some young people mention doing things like going outside, exercising, doing something creative like lego or art.
We also got this great piece of advice from one of our young people: “Be the person online you want other people to be!”