Online Safety Guide

Tips for staying safe online

Over the recent years, there has been a mega growth in kids and teenagers using the internet. The internet is great for a number of things, such as research, playing games, watching videos, and even staying in contact with your friends. But there is a dark-side to the internet. The growth in internet usage has also led to an increase in serious issues such as cyber-bullying and even depression. To make sure you stay safe online, we created this online safety guide. The ultimate goal of this guide is to give you tips on what to do and what NOT to do when using apps and websites, like Imagine Forest.

11 Tips To Stay Safe Online:

Before we get into the details of some serious online issues, here are some VERY IMPORTANT tips to keep you safe online. We highly recommend remembering and practicing these points whenever you are online (especially if you’re a member of a social online community or forum).

  1. Always be nice to people online. Try to avoid gossip, and do not engage with any negative posts or comments (Instead report them).
  2. Never meet anyone in person that you’ve only ever met online. Even if you have been speaking to them for years. Even if you consider them your ‘Bestie’ - Do not meet them in person, if you don’t know them offline.
  3. Know how to report content, such as posts, comments and users on the site/app. If you don’t know, try contacting the website owner or reading the help section of the app/website.
  4. Keep your passwords safe. And always use strong passwords to avoid your account being hacked.
  5. Be careful about what you are sharing online. Remember that most website content can be seen by anyone publicly.
  6. If you see something upsetting or disturbing online, speak to someone you trust about it. You should also report the content to keep others in the community safe.
  7. Never ever share personal information about yourself online. This includes phone numbers, addresses, email address, and full name. Strangers can use this information to impersonate you in real-life, and even send threats.
  8. When posting content check the privacy settings of the content. Some sites/apps give you the option to share content to friends only or even keep it private.
  9. Keep grown-ups, such as your parents or guardians in the loop about the apps/websites you have joined.
  10. Use your voice for good. Try helping others, sharing your knowledge, and fighting for a cause that you believe in.
  11. Take some time out away from the website/app. It is not healthy to continuously use an app/site for long periods of time. Try another activity or speaking to family and friends offline to keep yourself safe, healthy and happy.

Dealing With Online Bullies

Cyber bullying (or online bullying) is bullying that takes place using electronic devices, such as via an app or a website. The effects of cyberbullying can be more significant compared to traditional bullying, as the upsetting content is preserved online for anyone to see and can stay there forever if not removed. And even if the content is removed, there could still be screenshots of the upsetting content placed anywhere on the internet.

Some examples of cyber bullying include:

  • Sending offensive messages to someone
  • Posting hurtful comments on a post/video or piece of content
  • Starting or spreading rumours about someone
  • Encouraging someone to hurt themself
  • Sending threatening messages to someone
  • Impersonating someone to cause them harm or embarrassment
  • Wrongingly reporting a user with the intention of getting their account banned
  • And this list can go on and on.

Chances are, if you feel upset by another user’s comment or content - It could be cyber bullying. We always recommend that you speak to someone (preferably a grown up) that you trust, about any upsetting content, posts or comments. This could be your parents, guardians or a teacher at your school. Never deal with bullying on your own.

Here are a number of ways to deal with cyber bullies:

  1. Not Respond: Never respond to any upsetting or offensive content, posts or messages. Report the content, and block or mute the user on the app/site.
  2. Block the User/s: Most apps/sites should have the option to block users. This should stop them from interacting with you again on the app/site.
  3. Report The User/s: Report the upsetting messages, content and user/s involved. The website owner will review these reports, and likely ban the cyber bullies from using the site/app.
  4. Increase Your Privacy: Keep your content and profiles private. Some sites/apps allow you to post content privately or to your friends only. This will lower the risk of bullies engaging with you online.
  5. Take Care Of Yourself: It’s perfectly fine to take some time out from using the app/site. You can spend this time doing other activities, such as hanging with friends/family offline, going to the cinema, drawing, cooking or whatever else that makes you happy. It is VERY important to take care of yourself - If you feel that using a site/app is making you upset, then the best action is to delete your account.
  6. Speak to someone: It’s VERY important to tell someone that you feel comfortable with and trust about what's happening. This could be your parents, guardians, a teacher, your school, your best friend or your favorite uncle or aunt. Together you can work out the steps to take going forward and how to deal with cyberbullies.

In serious cases of cyberbullying, the police can also get involved, especially if the content or user violates cyberbullying laws.

Offensive/Upsetting Content

The internet is full of wonderful and interesting content to like and share with your friends. But it is also full of content that could cause upset, anger and even confusion. Examples of offensive/upsetting content may include the following:

  • Extreme Violence (i.e. torture, stabbings and killings)
  • Racism
  • Strong Political Views
  • Strong Religious Opinions
  • Pro Self-Harm Content
  • Harming Others
  • Cruelty To Animals & Humans
  • Nudity, Porn & Sexual Content
  • Drug Abuse
  • Terror Attacks & Threats
  • Sexist Views/Opinions
  • Pro Eating Disorder Content
  • Pro Suicide Content

Content such as the examples stated above can really upset and offend groups of individuals or society as a whole. If you come across posts, comments or content that causes upset or anger, the best course of action is to report it. Once reported the content will be reviewed by the website owner and removed.

To protect yourself from such content, you can take the following actions:

  1. Tell Someone: Speak to someone you trust about the content you’ve seen online. They will help you deal with the confusion or upset and help you understand it.
  2. Report: Always report the upsetting content, as chances are it could upset many other members on the site/app. The reported content should eventually be removed.
  3. Block User: Most sites/apps will have a block feature to block content by specific users. This could lower the risk of seeing inappropriate content.
  4. Delete Account: If a site/app is constantly filled with inappropriate or upsetting content, delete your account, and stop using the app/site.

Always share positive messages online. Be a role model and inspiration to others. Together we can create a safe and happy online community for all.

Sensitive & Personal Information

The internet allows you to meet and friend users from all over the world. It can be exciting chatting with so many new friends, especially if you’re a shy person in real-life. However you need to be very careful, as people you meet online may not always be telling you the truth about who they are. For example, a 12 year old from Atlanta, could easily be a 47 year old from Boston. There's no way of telling who a person is really online. That’s why it’s VERY important to never ever share personal information about yourself online. Even if you like the person and have been speaking to them for months - Never give them anything that can be personally identified.

Here are some example of personal identifying information that you should NEVER give to anyone or share online:

  • Phone Number
  • Home Address
  • Photograph of yourself
  • Photograph of a family member or friend
  • Full Name
  • Email Address
  • Social Security Number
  • Usernames and Passwords
  • Credit card or bank card numbers

Sharing these types of personal information can be very dangerous. It can lead to identity theft, strangers finding your home address, and even further threats offline. Here are some tips to keep your personal identity safe online

  1. Always use a screen name and not your real-life name when signing up to sites/apps.
  2. If someone asks for any of the above personal information - Never give it to them. You can respond by saying, “Sorry, I'm not allowed to provide that information.”
  3. Report users who are asking for personal identifying information to the app/website.
  4. Report anyone who is sharing their own personally identifying information, as they could be putting themselves and their loved ones in danger.
  5. Choose a strong password when creating accounts to avoid strangers, as well as other users from accessing your profile online.
  6. Use cartoon or fictional characters as the profile picture for your account to protect your identity.
  7. Never ever meet anyone you met online in person.

Depression & Suicide

Many people turn to online support when they are feeling alone, depressed or suicidal. This could be in the form of a post where the person shares their feelings or a specific incident that has made them upset. It could even be a direct message to you, where someone mentions their suicidal intentions or feelings of depression.

It is important to always know that help and support is available whenever you need it. Whenever you feel depressed or suicidal, it is VERY important that you speak to someone about it before taking any other action. You can talk to a family member, friend, school teacher, or a suicide crisis line. You can find a complete list of suicide crisis lines for your country in this Wikipedia post.

We also created this guide on suicide prevention, so you know exactly what to do when you or someone you know feels this way.

Frequently Asked Questions FAQS

I reported some content, but it still has not been removed?
It can take sites/apps up to a few days to remove reported content. On Imagine Forest, we aim to remove reported content that violates our rules within 24hrs of the report. If reported content is not removed after a few days, it can also mean that the content was actually safe in the first place, and did not violate any rules. You may wish to directly email the website owner, and ask them why the content was not removed for a detailed explanation.

Someone is bullying me online, what should I do?
In the first instance, you should report the user or content and block the user so they can no longer interact with you online. If the bullying continues, you should tell someone you trust such as a parent or teacher at your school. In addition to this, if the bullying does not stop, we recommend that you delete your account on the app/website. Never ever respond to the bully or bullies, as this can make matters much worse.

Can I share my email address with friends online?
No. Never ever share your email address with anyone. Even if you speak to this user regularly, you don’t really know who they are and why they need your email address. Once someone has your email address, they can sign you up to loads of dodgy websites and even leak your email on the internet for anyone to spam. It could also increase the chances of your email address and any linked accounts to be hacked.

Should I meet someone I met online in person?
Never. If a user is asking to meet you offline, always respond by saying, “Sorry, I'm not allowed to meet anyone in person.” Even if you knew this user for months or over a year online, do not meet them in person. If this is upsetting you, then please speak to a grown-up such as your parents or a teacher, so they can help you deal with this situation.

I’ve seen an offensive post/comment - What should I do?
Always report any offensive or upsetting content you come across online. Reported content if violating the website/app rules will be removed, and the user could be banned. You could also block the user, so you longer see content from them on the site/app. We also recommend that you speak to your parents or a teacher at your school about the content you’ve seen online to help you better understand it and deal with it.

I feel alone online - No-one likes my content or becomes my friend - What can I do?
This is a common issue on online communities, especially if you’re a new member to an already fully active site/app. The best thing to do is not to worry about it. Focus on creating valuable content and be helpful to other members of the site/app. Post friendly comments, and be nice to everyone. Eventually you should get some likes and even make some friends. If the site/app is no longer any fun, and making you upset, then the best course of action is to delete it, and try out something new.

A user keeps bothering me online - What should I do?
Block the user in the first instance, so they can no longer message or contact you online. If the user does not stop, then please report them. By reporting the user, they should eventually get banned if they violated any rules.

Someone hurt my feelings - What should I do?
If you are friends with this user, you can try explaining to them nicely that they’ve hurt your feelings. If this does not work or results in harsh comments, report the user and block them, so they can no longer engage with you on the site/app.

How can I provide feedback on a user’s content without upsetting them?
Always be nice to others. As the saying goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say nothing at all”. If you want to provide criticism or feedback, you can do it along with a compliment. For example, “This is a really cool idea! I like the part about XYZ! It would be nice to also include some more...”. If you are worried about sounding ‘harsh’ or ‘horrible’ then do not post anything.