Here at the Sealy Police Department we deal with various different kinds of crime, but one in particular has grown faster than others; social networking and related computer crimes. This is due, in part, to our society’s increasing use and reliance on the internet. Social networking sites provide teens and adults with a virtual environment where they can share stories, pictures, videos and participate in chat rooms with friends and acquaintances.
Some examples of social networking sites could include:
Here are some quick facts, so we can know what we are up against. As of 2007, there were more than 300 known social networking sites. 94% of teens are online or have access to the internet. Approximately half of teens who use social networking sites say they use it to make friends with people they don’t know. (Source: Pew Internet Research, 2009)
2 in 5 teens tell their parents nothing about what they do online.
1 in 4 teens who have restrictions online can find ways around them.
44% of parents do not limit what their children do online whosoever.
(Source: Cox Communications, 2009)
50% of all teens have a computer in their bedroom.
(Source: University of Toronto, 2009)
Knowing this, here are some simple tips that you and your children can use to be safe on social networking sites:
-Think about how different sites work before deciding to join a site;
-Keep control over the information you post;
-Do not give out or enter vital information about yourself;
-Make sure your screen name doesn’t reveal too much about you;
-Post information that you are comfortable with others seeing and knowing about you;
-Remember, once your information is posted, you cannot take it back. Someone can gather this and forward it to millions of people, even if you think you’ve deleted the information;
-Consider not posting your picture;
-Don’t flirt with strangers online;
-Use the internet with your children;
-Teach your children never to give out personal information;
-Instruct your child never to plan a face-to-face meeting with strangers or mere acquaintances from online;
-Establish clear ground rules for Internet use within your family;
-Tell your children not to respond if they receive offensive or dangerous email, chat requests, or other type of communication and to inform you when this occurs;
-Place your computer in a room that’s open and accessible to all family members;
-Consider installing software filters that prevent your child from entering personal information;
-Consider installing monitoring software that allows you to review your child’s online interactions.
Remember, your profile is on a public space. People aren’t always who they say they are. Harassment, hate speech, and inappropriate content should be reported to a parent or adult. You shouldn’t mislead people into thinking you’re older or younger than you really are and don’t post anything that might embarrass you later.
Don’t open up emails, files or web pages that you get from people you don’t really know or trust. Image how bad you would feel if a family member who shares that computer had their identity stolen because you acted carelessly or recklessly online.
Currently there is no national agency that deals with every type of Internet crime. Sealy PD is your best first-resource for these kinds of problems. Luckily, Texas has taken some initiative in some recent legislative sessions and passed several new laws regarding computer crimes. There are specific laws that deal with hacking, online solicitation of a minor, and online impersonation. You can research these laws further by researching Chapter 33 of the Texas Penal Code.