With the whole Real ID fiasco going on, one thought really sticks out to me: “I post under a handle, therefore I am anonymous and safe.”
Unfortunately, no, you are not anonymous and safe just because you aren’t using your real name. Safer, probably, but not safe. IP addresses can track people down to a certain location, you may have inadvertently given out too much information when filling out email and website profiles, or your boss or significant other snoops through your computer and discovers those angsty twitter posts about them.
And because I adore you all and wish you all to remain unharmed and employed and in good terms with your acquaintances, I’m going to discuss internet safety a little bit.
Never say anything on the internet you don’t want your significant other, your boss or your mom to discover
Ok, ok, you can say whatever you want on the internet. As long as you can live with the consequences.
But beware, those msn chat logs, that old angsty blog you had when you were 14, those raunchy Facebook photos and those flirty forum posts are very likely floating around somewhere. It takes one wrong person to come across them to send you into a downward spiral of embarrassment or, if you’re really unlucky and scandalous, put your career/relationship/social life in jeopardy.
Obviously, the more easily identifiable you make yourself, the more easily you’ll be identified (and the more likely your computer illiterate grandmother will discover your list of favorite porn movies). Even so, after taking all precautions imaginable, you’re still traceable.
It doesn’t mean you have to avoid the internet altogether (life is all about taking those small risks!), it means think before you type. It means don’t assume you’re anonymous and no one will ever find out who you are. One day, you’ll accidently leave twitter open. Your gossipy roommate will walk in, find it and show her 900 Facebook friends. Remind of yourself of that every time you hit a send button.
Also keep your stuff locked as much as possible. Don’t use Facebook applications unless you REALLY REALLY WANT THEM. If you want to keep your old lifejournal for the walks down memory lane, set anything remotely compromising to private. Delete your old chat logs. Cancel your AIM/MSN/Bongo Buddy (remember that folks!) accounts if you’re not using them. You can’t cover your trail 100%, but the more you remove, the less that can be used against you.
Sexual assault on the Internet most likely follows the same patterns as sexual assaults in the offline world
While the exact statistics vary from source to source, Sexual Assault prevention and education associations all agree on this: most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows and only a minority are committed by a stranger.
What it means is that you should still be careful around strangers (walking alone at night through sketchy parts of town is never a good idea!) but you can’t be careless around people you think you know either.
The data concerning sexual assault over the internet (whether it’s limited to verbal harassment or the more extreme flying around the world to stalk you) is still anecdotal so I have to say “it most likely follows real life patterns” because we don’t know if it follows real life patterns. The anecdotes follow similar patterns though:
1- You meet someone on the internet.
2- You get along really well and they’re such smooth talkers that your friendship evolves really fast. Like, REALLY fast.
3- You tell them stuff about yourself.
4- After awhile, they become total pests and they come at you from all sides.
5- When you try to cut them off, they become threatening.
I would hope most stories end there, but the news does come out with “creepy internet people” stories that end badly fairly often.
Like in real life, you can’t cut yourself off from every single person you meet by chance that they’re dangerous. You won’t get hurt, but you’ll be pretty lonely. Just play smart. Remember that friendships grow slowly, not overnight. Don’t give anyone a dozen ways to get ahold of you. One way is enough. Make your friendship public. Immediately cut anyone out of your life (offline and online) who gets possessive or intrusive, don’t let it escalate. Take screenshots of any questionable behaviour.
Use different emails for different spheres of your life
I stumbled on this trick by accident. I was looking for a way to keep all my hobby communications organized and tidy. So I kept the hotmail account I’ve had since I was 12 for real life friends and family (and contest signups), I used my school email strictly for academic, professional and school politics communications, I made a Bossy Pally email account for the blog and gaming, and I have a separate email for my Battlenet account (as a security measure before I bought an authenticator).
I realized how much of a lifesaver this was when I found out that a potential landlady googled the email address I had used to contact her. What did she find? Some details about a career fair I had planned for my school. My profile on our National Student Council webpage. Some model UN mentions. (I’ve never done model UN, but it still looks very good when it comes up on a google search!)
I was pretty happy I didn’t use Bossy Pally (while I’m not ashamed of my gamer status, there are better first impressions to make) or my old teenage email that would have yielded links to godknowswhat I was doing when I was 12!
Be smart, always.
I’ve heard the line “don’t drink and type” said often. It’s true. Everyone uses the internet these days and there are a lot of people who know how to find what they want to find.
Be cautious when posting personal information as well as rants. Don’t be fooled that you’re safe just because you’re using a fake name.
Make friends online, but don’t let your urge to make friends fast get the best of you. Remember, remember, remember that friendship and trust grow slowly. Recognize your gut feeling. If a behaviour seems…off…it probably is.
I don’t want to hear anymore stories of “I lost my job because of my rant/blog” or “I got stalked by a jerk on the internet”. Real ID or pre-Real ID, those stories make me sad.