There is a lot of great stuff on the web, but there are some scams and some viruses and some other not-so-great stuff, too. But, you should be able to avoid getting taken advantage of by applying a little common sense.
- Think twice before giving out personal information.
Social networking sites and other sites often ask you for personal information without telling you what they are going to use it for or who they are going to share that information with. First, try not to post anything that you might regret or that somebody with bad intentions could use against you. Also, check the privacy settings of each social site you belong to and try to limit it to sharing information with your friends and not the whole world. Don't post pictures of yourself (post an avatar instead!), don't post your cell phone number, or your address, or your school, etc. Think of it like this - if you wouldn't put it up on a billboard where everyone in the world could see it, you shouldn't put it online!
- Be careful who you friend.
It's very easy set up fake accounts and pretend to be somebody you are not on the web - make sure that whoever you are talking to online is really who they say they are, and be sure not to friend people that you don't know. If you don't know who they really are, then you don't know what their motives are.
- Don't believe everything you read.
Anybody can say anything they want in an email or a blog post or on a website. That doesn't mean it's true! Before believing everything you read online, try to figure out who wrote it - is it someone you can respect and trust? Or is it someone trying to sell something that will say anything in order to make money? Or is it someone who is just passing along something they heard without checking to see if it is true or not? Or is it someone pretending to be someone else or just lying or exaggerating to cause trouble? If you want to check out if a rumor or urban legend is true, check snopes.com, and if you want to check up on what politicians are saying (or what people are saying about politicians), check on FactCheck.org.
- Be careful what you download.
Before downloading anything you come across that looks cool or fun, make sure it is from a source you can trust. Anything else might just be transferring viruses and spyware to your computer. If you need to download updates or drivers for you computer, make sure it is from the right site - microsoft.com, apple.com, real.com, hp.com, sun.com, oracle.com, dell.com etc. If you are looking for free or shareware programs, try a reliable site like cnet.com that has editor reviews and user favorites.
- Protect your passwords.
When you are setting up a password for an account, be sure to come up with something that nobody will be able to guess easily. Don't use your dog's name, or your birthday, or your phone number, or anything like that. It's best to use a combination of letters and numbers, because that makes it much more difficult to figure out. And whatever you do, don't give your password to anyone! If it's hard for you to remember your passwords and you need to write them down, just put them somewhere safe where your friends or siblings aren't going to find them easily. Can you imagine the trouble your little brother could cause if he logged into your email account and started emailing your friends?
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