Internet Safety Tips

FBI Mouse PadI was cleaning out boxes from my old office in Buffalo, and came across this mouse pad that was given to me by a special agent of the FBI. Especially given the passage of DOPA in the House, it made me think a bit about how many of these tips I follow:

1. Never give out identifying information such as your name, address, telephone number, password, or school information;

Great advice. But what does “give out” mean, really. Lots of sites require passwords, and a surprising number want to know that other stuff. Unfortunately, if you follow this one, it will be pretty hard to participate online in just about anything. A much better strategy would probably be to get students to use fake addresses, names, and telephone numbers…

2. Never arrange for a face to face meeting with anyone you meet online;

I get the reason for this, but isn’t this one of the valuable uses of the internet for adults? I can see why it would be attractive to kids as well.

3. Never upload (post) pictures of yourself onto the Internet or online service to people you do not personally know;

Well, that pretty much kills Facebook, now, doesn’t it. I am not big for posting my face all over the net, but I also found that in college courses where online interaction was accompanied by a headshot, it made it possible to articulate online/offline discussions more effectively.

4. Never download pictures from an unknown source. Pictures could contain sexually explicit images;

Let’s be serious here. While young people probably do run into explicit pictures without intending to, when they download they probably know what they are getting. While there are ways to download large zip files of photos, for example, generally, you see it before you download it. Besides, what exactly is an “unknown source.” Haven’t they heard, on the internet no one knows if you are an unknown source. Maybe they are thinking of eBay Porn?

5. Never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing;

Wait, does this mean the FBI has located postings that do not fall into one of these categories? Seems a bit far-fetched.

The list is odd for a couple of reasons. First of all, I can get what they are after, because I know what it is they are trying to get kids to avoid. Do I know what they mean by “suggestive” if I am a kid just working out the whole sex thing? I seriously doubt it. Heck, as an adult it can be a pretty ambiguous sort of thing. It sets up an unreasonable sort of situation when we say “there are things out there you shouldn’t know about and so you should avoid them but we can’t tell you what they are to tell you how to avoid them.” It strikes me that the better approach is “there are adults out there who molest children, and here are some of the ways they entice kids, and you should be on the watch.”

Anyway, out of context (the tips give almost no indication that they are intended for children), these seem pretty funny. They might as well be read as “Do not use sociable media.” But I especially like the final warning, which should be posted on every monitor:

WHATEVER YOU ARE TOLD ONLINE MAY OR MAY NOT BE TRUE

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One Comment

  1. Posted 8/13/2006 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    “WHATEVER YOU ARE TOLD ONLINE MAY OR MAY NOT BE TRUE”

    hee… could replace “online” with “in writing”, “in a term paper”, “on the phone”, “by a politician”, “by University at Buffalo Graduate Assistant personel office”, “on TV”, “by a professor”, “in person”. I could go on, this is cathartic.

    In all seriousness I support teaching kids how to interact online, but I disagree with prohibitive appraoches (DOPA) that have through time and recorded history served only to intrigue children as they test their boundaries and seek out identity. Talk to them, show them cause and effect. But taking things away or making them off limits… well, we were all teenagers once. We know what that approach can do. – j

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