Stay safe out there - and online, too

The world of digital media has a dark side — that’s the message Kenai police officer Alex Prins has been sharing at numerous presentations, one he recently presented to a group of psychology students and members of the public at Kenai Peninsula College.

While much of his message is targeted toward youth digital media safety, it’s one that everyone who accesses the Internet or uses email or a smart phone should take to heart. And in this day and age, that’s just about everybody.

Online risks run the gamut, from scammers trying to find just enough bits of your identity to take your money or credit, to burglars looking for an opportunity, to those who would engage in sex crimes, or worse. Complicating the matter is a generation of digital users who have grown up with social media, are comfortable storing their personal data in “the cloud” and don’t think twice about sharing personal details with the rest of the online world. In a recent story in the Clarion about Prins’ presentation, and in many other stories about online safety, people frequently express shock and concern about just what’s out there, what personal information can be accessed, and what can be done with that information in the wrong hands.

What’s more, for all the Facebooks and Twitters out there, there are more secretive sites where activity can be hidden. And all of this happens in a world where the legislative and judicial systems have been slow to keep up with changes in the nature of invasion of privacy.

With all that risk, it begs the question, is it safe to be online at all? For most of us, disconnecting completely is not an option. The experts have lots of good information for minimizing online risks, many of them simply a new application of the same commonsense rules we all learned before we all had an Internet connection at our fingertips. Chief among them is not to share personal information where others can access it — and if it’s online, it can be accessed. Parents, just as you would ask where your child is going when they leave the house, know where they’re going when the get online. Make sure your children know what to do if they encounter something inappropriate, whether it’s a website with questionable content, cyberbulling, or a text or email with sexual content from a peer.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg; a quick online search will yield plenty of other good information for staying safe in a digital world. The Internet and all the means we have to access it are powerful tools that keep us connected, informed and entertained. But we all need to keep our personal privacy and safety in mind when we venture out into it.

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