I’ve been contemplating writing this post for a while now, and after seeing repeated dangerous behavior around the internet, I decided to go ahead and do it. The internet can be tons of fun, and a great source of information for all sorts of subjects. There is a darker side to it too though, and by exercising a bit of caution in how we use it, hopefully none of us will have to experience any of that dark side. I want everyone to continue to be able to enjoy it, but to do so safely.
In this post I’m going to cover a couple of different issues that I notice as big problems in terms of internet safety. When I say big problems, I simply mean that they are mistakes I see people make over and over again, and I guess they don’t realize that what they are doing is putting them at risk. Hopefully this post will make them re-think what they are doing if they happen to read it. And if you see someone exhibiting risky internet behavior, feel free to send them a link to this post!
- Posting excessive pictures of children on the internet and worse yet, using their real names on them! This makes me cringe every time I see it, and I’ve actually quit reading a couple of blogs and other accounts because they tend to do it far too often. What’s worse is one of them is posting pictures of someone else’s child with the child’s name, the legal issues that could cause is off the charts. You will see NO photos of kids on either of my blogs because I don’t agree with it. But if you want to post pictures of children anywhere on the internet, please don’t put their real names on it. I know of several bloggers who have made up cute nicknames for the kids. I love that because it means nothing to anyone except the blogger and the readers, and highly doubtful that the kid would ever answer to it. And if you are going to post a picture of a kid, be sure that they aren’t wearing clothing that may ID them–a t-shirt with their name, their team name, their school name–you get the idea. You don’t want a stranger to have the ability to make any personal connection with this child whatsoever. With children, anonymity is of the highest concern. You may even want to apply this to photos of yourself if you are adult, internet stalkers exist too. (more on that later)
- Using your own name if you are under 18. Or if you have children under 18. I know of quite a few adults too who use different names for their blogging and other uses as well. This is just smart, and goes along with some of what I mention in number 1. Just keep in mind that using an alias isn’t a guarantee, but it can help. It is so easy for someone to find out all sorts of things about you if they have your real name. The child I mentioned previously–her mother isn’t cautious AT ALL. I came across her again not too long ago on Pinterest when doing a search for something that apparently is a mutual interest, and out of curiosity, just using the little bit of information I did have on her from these two sources, I decided to see how much I could find out. I found out her full name, her profession, her husband’s name, his profession, their home address, where their child went to school and a whole bunch of other information I won’t get into, but if I were a child predator or kidnapper, it was all there for the taking, and she made absolutely no effort to protect any of it. Time involved: about 10 minutes. I broke no laws nor breached any security. I’m not a “professional” when it comes to this kind of stuff and I was stunned at how easily I found all of this info. I was actually a bit horrified!
- Not updating passwords and being too complacent. In #2 I mentioned that using an alias is a good idea. however, if you don’t update your passwords periodically and monitor activity, you might as well not bother. The alias can still be linked back to your devices, which can be an easy access for a hacker. Feeling secure because “this is just a hobby” invites a hacker in. Once they are in your device they may have access to your credit card or other stored information that you didn’t even realize was there. If someone really wants in, they will find a way and get in. Don’t make it easy for them. Make it a habit to change your passwords periodically and not to share them with anyone. Better safe than sorry!
- Giving too much information about your personal life. I’m not talking about that post you made about having pizza for dinner, or that you went for a hike yesterday. It’s more about “I’m leaving for a weeks vacation tomorrow” or “I’m going to be out shopping all day tomorrow”. Why is this important you ask? Well, you never know who might be reading your blog or social media account, and you have just advertised to the world that your home may be vacant for a set period of time. Leaving you as a great subject to be robbed. Statistics show that the majority of home robberies are done by someone who has been in the house previously–a contractor, a salesperson, even a relative or friend. When you are on the internet you have a worldwide presence. You don’t necessarily know who is reading your posts either. Your friend who reads your blog or social media account sees this, and while she may not be a thief, she mentions it to someone else who is or knows someone who is, and next thing you know, your TV, jewelry and money are missing. Even if someone is going to be home, it’s still probably not a great idea, because you may be setting them up for dealing with an unwanted intruder. Wait until AFTER that vacation to talk about it in detail. It can wait until after you return, and the likelihood of your personal belongings coming up missing is significantly reduced. You can even take this a step further if you are concerned about blog inactivity making it look as though you may be away, most blogging platforms have the ability for you to write a post in advance and then having it set to automatically post while you are away. “Oh, you’re in Paris, well you won’t be home for a while then…”
- Everyone on the internet isn’t who they say they are. Don’t believe everything someone says. One of the hallmarks of a child predator on the internet is that they pretend to be a child to lure another child. Yeah, that person who you are talking to online says that they are a 14 year old girl who likes dolls, but in reality, they could be a 35 year old man who is searching for a target for any number of unscrupulous things. I always think about that commercial where the girl says she’s meeting her date and that he’s “a French model”. (if you haven’t seen the commercial, click here) Tons of people lie on the internet, some to just make themselves sound fantastic, and others for not so good reasons. Recently there was an incident with a doll blog where someone stole a bunch of pictures off of their blog, then posted them on Instagram, posing as one of the children associated with the blog. I went to check it out, and I’ll just say that the Instagram account and posts had all the hallmarks of a child predator. By the time I was done reading all of it, I was physically ill, it disturbed me tremendously to think that someone would not only use someone else’s material for something like this, but that they would use it to potentially lure a child in. Blech. Fortunately this person quit interacting at all on the account once the owner of the photos was made aware and threatened legal action, the gig was up. But I wonder if perhaps they went on to do it with someone else’s photos. The owner of the stolen material did contact Instagram, and I hope that an investigation beyond the norm followed. I would hate to think that anything bad happened to anyone because of the account. (Believe it or not, even with all of their so-called “policies”, months later, Instagram hasn’t removed the account!)
- Be careful with those photos! Many of those devices that take photos now have built in geotracking/geotagging. What is geotracking you ask? The definition is the “ability to track a person’s current, physical location by obtaining GPS data from their smartphones or other GPS-enabled devices.” The problem is that geotagging “tags” the photos taken with certain devices, giving someone the exact GPS coordinates for the location of where the photo was taken. Not a big deal if the picture is from that trip to Paris you took two years ago, but yes, a bit of an issue if you are posting in real time or posting pictures taken in your home! Consult your manual to find out how to turn this off. Older cameras aren’t usually equipped with this option, but again, check your manual if in doubt.
- Posting comments everywhere you can, without caution. This is kind of a double edged sword, one of the things suggested to get traffic to your blog is to post comments on other blogs with similar subject matter. That actually works very well, but there is another caveat to it: some of your info is out there for all the world to see. First you need to make sure that when you are posting on other blogs (especially crucial for under 18) that you don’t have anything that links back to any personal information. But here’s another fact that I don’t think the majority of folks think about. All sorts of information shows up in the logs that the blog owner can see. When someone posts here, I can get various information, depending on how they are registered to post. But the main one that can cause issues is it gives me the ISP (internet service provider) that they posted from. With that little bit of information, I can find out through free sources on the internet, what city and state you are posting from. I’ve only used this information one time, when someone posted a horribly obscene thing on my blog. I used it more as a monitoring tool in my case so that I could be certain that this person was not one of my “regulars” and so that I could be sure that they would never get through to post on my blog again. But I can see where someone with not so good intentions could use this to gain information as to a persons location. So while going around and commenting “firsty!” on a bunch of different blog posts might seem like innocent fun, think again. Most blog owners are good people, but there is always that bad egg in the bunch.
- Bad language. Swearing just isn’t very cool, and on blogs or social media sites that children frequent, it’s just not necessary. I know of a doll blog that is adult oriented and she makes it VERY clear on the front page that it is such and that’s just how it is. But going around and swearing on every blog you come across is not only in very poor taste, it also “tags” you as being a bit too “free and loose” when coming from a younger person. That can lead others to conclusions about you. And maybe the conclusion is coming from someone who is looking for someone else who can be easily led because they are going through a rebellious stage. Don’t do it. I haven’t come across it all that much on blogs, but this has been an ongoing complaint that I’ve seen come up multiple places, so apparently it is going on more than I’m aware of.
- Bullying. Apparently there is quite a bit of this going around within the younger doll community, particularly in relation to American Girl dolls. It needs to stop. Just because someone doesn’t have AG dolls doesn’t make them less of a person, nor does it permit someone to ridicule them. It’s not only a terrible habit and makes you look bad, but it can be incredibly dangerous. Why you ask? Seriously, have you not watched the news and heard about all of the incidents involving young people who are going in and shooting people? The underlying common thread with the shooters is that most of them were loners who didn’t feel as though they fit in and many of them have been bullied. Gee, wouldn’t that be just dandy if someone was shot to death (or several someones) because they thought it was cool to give someone a hard time because they didn’t have an AG doll? Having an AG doll does not make ANYONE better than anyone else. It’s a doll. And not worth getting hurt or dying over, or even having your reputation ruined. Owning an AG doll does not make you a member of an elite club, nor does it give you the right to harass someone who doesn’t own one. NOTHING DOES. The other side to this is what if you made someone feel so bad that they did something drastic to themselves? Bullying is simply wrong and not exactly safe either.
- Parents: monitor your kids online activity. I know that one seems like a no brainer, but I’m still amazed at the number of parents who don’t keep track of what their child is doing on the internet. “Oh, my kid is a good kid, he/she would never do anything like that!” WRONG!!! We had an incident involving a tween and our computer that shocked the heck out of me. We had a gathering of people at our house that included both kids and adults. One of the kids asked if they could use the computer to surf the internet. (keep in mind that this was in the 90’s when there were still many homes that either didn’t have a computer and/or the internet) This kid was a good kid, no problems and we said “sure!” Big mistake. Our computer was in the living room at the time, and my husband walked in just as this child was on a horribly inappropriate site. They quickly clicked out of it, but we later went into the history and checked to see what it was. After that, no one got to use our computer but us. However, the bigger question was how did this child know about this site to begin with and how many times had they been to it before? It was so out of character for this child too, we were stunned. We learned a valuable lesson, and I’m hopefully passing that on to you. Even the best of kids can go through a rebellious stage or have a “dirty little secret”. And they may not be doing it on a computer at your home, but on a computer at a friend’s or elsewhere. Pay attention!
- Is this survey or award questionnaire getting a bit too personal? We’ve all seen them–a questionnaire or survey type thing that shows up on a blog. Most of the questions are harmless. But once in a while they ask questions that A) shouldn’t be answered or B) should make you wonder WHY this person is asking this. When they start to ask questions about personal information and/or physical description, don’t answer ANY of it. Not only is it putting your info out there for all the world to see, but I would question just who is behind it and why do they want to know??? It may be a very innocent mistake by someone just not thinking, but use your head and don’t answer. If they get upset or insulted, oh well! This is about your safety and not a popularity contest.
My intent with this post isn’t to scare anyone half to death, or to make you quit using the internet completely. It’s to “scare” everyone into being smart about how they use the internet. You may wonder why I feel so strongly about this issue. It’s something that has always bothered me, but in recent years, I’ve unfortunately learned about not one, but two incidents in which someone I knew (or thought I knew) was arrested for behaving badly in regards to children, and using the internet as their way of meeting these children. The first person I only knew casually but never in a million years did I think of them as a potential child predator. The other person I had literally known since we were 6 years old, we not only had mutual friends, but he was married to a family friend who was a babysitter for my nephew at one time. It isn’t a very good feeling to be watching the news and seeing a report about someone you thought you knew, being arrested for something so awful. The sad part is that these stories are on our local news all the time, but it especially hit home when it occurred involving two people who I was personally aquainted with. I wonder how many of these incidents could have been avoided if the victims and/or their families had exercised a bit more caution. And how many times did the perpetrators do this before they actually got caught, it just went unreported?
This doesn’t just go on with children either. I mentioned previously about internet stalkers. Not too long ago I read a story about a woman who was “catfished” by someone. That was bad enough, but it got worse. She basically stalked the person who stalked her! I’m not sure which person’s behavior was worse, but the whole story is an interesting case study in strange internet behavior and some of the lengths some people will go to. All over a bad book review. If you would like to read about it, click here. Another similar incident happened in the UK, only with violent consequences, you can read about it here. **PLEASE NOTE!** Both articles have some profanity in them, not excessive, but it is there, so I just wanted to make potential readers aware. Don’t yell at me because it’s there, you’ve been warned!
Something that has always disturbed me is the willingness so many people have to share far too much information about themselves and what they are doing on the internet. Maybe you don’t think it’s such a big deal. I actually had a first hand experience involving a co-worker who was up for a promotion. She didn’t get it. Want to know why? Because of something said on her Facebook account. Not something that she said, but something someone else said. Because of it, she was considered a risk. So think about what you post everywhere and how it might not only affect you, but others as well. NEVER post anything anywhere that you wouldn’t be proud of if you decided to run for President.
Stay safe everyone! I consider so many of you my friends, and I just want to make sure that no one is doing anything that could put them in danger. If you know of any further information on any of the points I have made, please be sure to share it in the comments. Knowledge is power! And as I said before, please feel free to share this information with others, the more people who read it, the safer we all become. One of the contributors to this piece made a fantastic comment in regards to children on the internet: “Once you are blogging, you are in the grown-up’s sandbox. You just never know who is out there.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
I’d like to thank the following bloggers for their contributions and ideas to this piece:
Nonna from Mommy’s Doll Club, Sharry from Julie Newman’s 70’s Time Capsule, Jen from The Dolls Between Us, Xyra from Tea Time With Melody Q . Your input in these issues was invaluable, and I thank you all for taking the time to submit your ideas.