Sometimes, online safety can be confusing. It seems like every site has different “privacy policies” that would read like Tolstoy’s War and Peace if you actually got around to reading it. Or, maybe you’ve heard about some of those cases of Online Bullying or Identity Theft that have been all over the evening news lately. If you for it, I am sure you’ll find tons of examples of some of the worst behavior you can imagine (and perhaps some you can’t.) How to you protect yourself against all that?
Before I say anything else, let me read you your Miranda Rights.
You have the right to wear fruit on your head. You have the right to play a conga drum.
Oops. Those were the Carmen Miranda rights. Sorry about that. Let’s see – here it is:
Your Internet Miranda Rights
You have the right to say or do anything on the internet – however anything you say or do may be misquoted against you in the court of public opinion, or used as evidence in a court of law. In the court of public opinion, you do not have the right to an attorney, and even if you manage to get one, chances are it will do you no good.
It may not always seem fair, but unfortunately sometimes that’s just the way it is.
There are a lot of safety issues on the internet that can threaten your hard earned money (frauds), your identity, how you interact with other people, or it could even threaten your job. Not all the internet threats may come from other people – some may even come from … well … yourself.
Luckily, a little common sense will go a long way to protect you from many online threats.
The Internet Chances Nothing
Many people view the online world of “The Internet” as a type of reality quite unlike “The Real World”. The way people act around each other kind of supports this theory – but in reality, everybody you meet online is (probably) a person sitting behind a computer, just like you are.
Just like in real life, there are some kind, polite, and trustworthy people on the internet, but there are also those who simply aren’t. I am not suggesting they are all evil creatures from hell that have to be destroyed – I am sure some of them just haven’t worked on their social skills or … something … ???
The point is that there are many people who seem to think that the internet is full of bad people, which just might be true, but then again – we run across bad people in our lives even when we’re not on the internet.
You may have heard about a young man named Phillip Markoff, or The Craigslist Killer as he was dubbed by the press and in the Lifetime Network movie they made about him. It is believed that he robbed and killed a young woman he had met through an ad she had placed in one of the seedier sections of Craigslist. It is also believed he robbed several other women who had also placed craigslist ads. In 2010, he killed himself while in the jail he was in awaiting trial.
While this was unfolding in the news media, many people were using this as an example about how unsafe the internet is. They used the fact that he met his victims through Craigslist as evidence of this. But, is that really the case? I’m not so convinced.
How is this any different than someone who robs and kills prostitutes they picked up off the street, or that he had met through the Personals section of the newspaper? It’s not. Perhaps the internet made finding his victims more convenient, but that really isn’t saying much.
The Internet Changes Everything
In some ways, The Internet does change everything. It gives us a false sense of anonymity.
If you are like half the people I know, there will be times in your life when you are tempted to tell that woman sitting in front of you on the bus that the dress she is wearing makes her look ridiculous. Or, maybe you are tempted to tell the man standing in line in front of you that mullets went out of style a long time ago. Or, maybe you overhear a conversation in a restaurant and are tempted to walk over and let them know how stupid you think they are. Whatever the case, hopefully your mama taught you some manners and you don’t approach the person – no matter how tempted you are.
But, on the internet, with your (false) sense of anonymity, you just might think nothing of doing something you wouldn’t dare do if you weren’t sitting in front of a computer.
I call it a false sense of anonymity because very little about the internet is one hundred percent anonymous. There is always a chance you might be found out.
There is also a strong cultural notion of free speech on the internet. Most people can agree free speech is one of our most basic human rights. Many people believe free speech means that they can say whatever they want at any time, regardless of any consequences. Sure, right now we are going through a paradigm shift – where some of the things that used to be taboo are now a cultural norm, or what used to be off-limits are now becoming not only acceptable but desirable as well. The recent Wiki-Leaks controversy is a good example of this. Had much of that information been published when I was a child (or when our parents were children) there would have been a much different reaction.
The criminal activity that happens on the internet isn’t anything new, although the internet does criminals new opportunities, and potentially reach more victims. It seems like it used to be that “crime” only happened to people in certain parts of town, but now anyone can be victimized on the internet, even in the safety of your own home.
Then again, crime (in general) happens all across town now, even without the internet … so, maybe The Internet hasn’t changed things at all…
Keeping Yourself Safe – The Bottom Line
I wish there was an easy way I could tell you how to keep yourself safe on the internet. Actually, maybe there is.
It is called common sense. And … intuition.
When I have spoken with people who have been victimized on the internet in one form or another, they often comment that they felt something was wrong before it all went awry. Or, they look back at the situation and think that if it hadn’t happened on the internet, it wouldn’t have happened.
Many scams on the internet make offers that seem to be too good to be true. And, guess what – they are. You’re browsing a webpage and see an ad with big letters that say “Free iPad!” When someone clicks the link, they find all they have to do is “complete one of these offers” or “post this link on Facebook and send us your bank account information for shipping and handling” and we’ll send you a free iPad. Trust me, if it were that easy – everybody and their uncles would have a Free iPad.
Or, maybe they’ll try to sell you free music or movies or TV shows (or porn) and all you have to do is install this program that records and sends us all your passwords, even though we call it a “media player you need to use to view this content.” Oops. Trust me, if those offers were true, then everybody would be getting their music, movies, or TV shows for free and the media companies would be out of business.
Common sense tells us to think twice before we do anything … and … honestly, that’s the best advice I can give anybody on The Internet.