Now more than ever, students are spending more and more time on their phones, iPads, laptops, and screens. After switching to online school and having to stay indoors, there isn’t much to do, bringing us to our screens and social media. But, there are downsides when it comes to online safety. Keeping your data safe, your information, and even your last name away from strangers! “In just my opinion, I would say don’t get too many social media apps, because then people might be able to get a lot of information from every social media app that you have,” explains 6th grader Ryleigh Beltran. We should all be aware of the many dangers of social media and just being online. But, what can we do to keep ourselves safe?
I interviewed 6th grader Hailey Saucedo-Capote here at the Hamilton Grange Middle School to hear her opinions and thoughts about online safety, and what she does to manage her privacy. Hailey told me, “I do have a few online friends, but they really don’t know too much about me. Really just my first name, Hailey, and maybe a few things about me like my favorite things, etc, but not so much about my personal life.”
Hailey talked about how she sometimes speaks with people online but never shares too much information about herself, and who she is off-screen. “I’ll definitely never share my address, and definitely not my last name either, because I don’t want anyone online to find out about where I live, who I am, who my parents are,” she said.
“To keep students at Hamilton Grange safe, you should definitely not share too much information about yourself, and just think of it as: ‘What do you want them to know about you? Do you want online strangers to know who you are at home and things like your address, or want to know just basic stuff about you,’” she advised.
Ryleigh also had some things to mention about online safety and managing security. I began asking her what she would do if someone asked her about some information about her online. She replied, “I would just tell them that my name was RJ, since my first name is Ryleigh, and my middle name is Jolie because I wouldn’t want them to know my full name.”
She continued, “I wouldn’t tell them anything else, since I don’t feel comfortable.”
Ryleigh had strong feelings about what she had to say, share, and advise Hamilton Grange students. Ryleigh said, “I think a good way to stay safe online is by taking your Gmail and maybe create passwords that are very strong and that nobody will know about.”
Ryleigh had personal experience with getting her school Gmail account hacked twice. “Advice that I’ve heard is that if you’re getting hacked on your school account, use a different account or tell your parents, so they can contact your school, and handle it themselves. I have gotten hacked twice before with my school account, and my step-mom had to change my password twice in order to stay safe.”
In general, from what we’ve heard, it is common for young kids to share and exchange passwords amongst themselves or in groups of friends. Sometimes this can lead to bigger problems, which can be avoidable.
To get extra information and data, I spoke with IT specialist Rafael Suarez at Columbia University, School of the Arts.
“Only share the necessary information when it’s truly necessary. For instance, when you open up an account with a website or a service, you have to make sure before you share any information with them that they are legitimate,” he shared as a piece of advice.
“Just from a couple of snippets of information about one person, that person can actually be located by anyone with access to the Internet. One of the dangers is that somebody else could steal your identity. They may post as if they were you, and open up credit card accounts and take out loans with the bank,” he said.
This has happened many times, with also people I know personally. To make sure everyone is able to be safe, I asked him if there was anything we could download on our devices to manage safety, security, and privacy. Rafael used AdBlockers as a basic example and continued to tell me about different extensions too.
“One of the most basic tools that I always use and that I recommend people use is called AdBlockers, not just because they do block ads, but they block a lot of content that is illegitimate. There are a lot of scams online that people land onto that can result in them losing money and access to their things.”
He continued, “Another tool that I use that we actually use at Columbia is called Malwarebytes. It’s a software suite that scans your computer and helps you avoid ransomware and also viruses.”
A last piece of advice for online safety and security Rafael shared with me was about what students our age can do to keep themselves safe.
He explained, “You need to avoid in general sharing any personal information that could identify you. For instance, your real name, your address, your phone number, social security number, etc.”
“One general rule of thumb I would say is to be very wary of communicating online with people you haven’t yet established an offline relationship with,” he said to close off our interview.
In conclusion, there are definitely dangers of being on our screens where data and information could be easy to access if you aren’t careful. However, strategies and methods have been developed to help keep us safe, especially in this weird time where everyone is always on their computers and phones. We need to be careful, and make sure we really know who we are talking to online. That website you received in an email, that one person you talked to online or answered a phone call from, could have been much different than you expected.