While instant messaging can be a fun way to keep in touch with family and friends, there are unfortunately people online who prey on those who don’t know how to protect themselves. Without proper protection, any IM user can become a victim of harassment, sexual advances or even computer viruses and other nuisances.
Here are five important tips for keeping yourself safe while using your favorite IM client:
Keep It Private. While your online buddy on the other side of your instant messages might seem legitimate, it is always better to err on the side of safety. Never reveal your last name, contact information, account passwords or any other identifying factors to anyone over an instant messenger conversation.
Hold on to Your Screenname. Just as you should never give out your personal information online, never give your account information to other people you know in person. While you may trust your friends, they may use your account to practice cyberbullying, possibly hurting others and putting yourself at risk for blame.
Avoid Harassment. Regardless of how you might feel about someone, cyberbullying or the use of crude, violent or sexual language towards another person online is a serious offense. Never engage or participate in any online discussions which make you uncomfortable or are otherwise negative in nature. If you are the user who is practicing harassment out of anger or even a practical joke, know your actions could bring possible legal consequences, in addition to hurt another person. If you are a victim of harassment online, know you can fight back.
Beware of Links, File Transfers. Practice care when clicking links or accepting files over IM in an effort to keep your computer free of viruses and other nuisances. While your friends and family may often forward great resources, there is always the possibility their screenname has sent a link to a virus without their knowledge. Always scan articles transferred from an online contact for viruses before opening.
When in Doubt, Get Help. While IM is fun, it can also be corrupted by people to do harm to others. If you even find yourself in a situation you are uncomfortable with, tell your parents, a school counselor, a teacher or an adult you can trust. You should also report issues with another user to your IM client provider, local law enforcement and also reporting sexual advances to the CyberTipline.