As part of my Digital Media Literacy class at ASU, we’ve learned about the kinds of media in play today, how to navigate this new world of media, as well as the ethics and security measures needed. Here’s my advice to a teenager living in this media-centric world.
In today’s world, media is all around us; television, radio, news, social media, video games, and the internet, media encompasses our whole lives. You’re part of the generation that grew up on media from the start: cell phones were readily available, desktop computers were common in every household, laptops and tablets dominated the market. The internet is booming. Video games both online and on console systems are expansive.
With all of this media, you may have encountered some things previous generations have not at an early start: cyber bullying, meeting and befriending strangers in online chatrooms, playing games with others from across the country, following celebrities and brands on social media, and more. In the early days of the internet, there was the warning of “stranger danger” and most parents cautioned that the friend on the other side of the chatroom was actually an adult posing as a kid for nefarious purposes.
But these days? It’s both easier and more difficult to tell who is who. Celebrities are verified on social media platforms, Facebook makes it easy to connect with classmates and relatives, and IP addresses can be used to find information about users. On the flip side, that same information can be used to harm others; strangers can send harassment in a variety of new ways or find out your personal information.
Have fun, but be careful. Protect yourself online as you would in-person. Don’t share personal details on social media, in forums, or through video game chatting. Especially as a minor, avoid 18+ websites and accounts. You can protect yourself by setting your profile to private or limiting what is public by creating groups of trusted friends to share life updates with. Here are a few guides I found for tips on being safe on the internet:
I’ll add this: when it comes to meeting your online friends in-person, there are a few ways to vet them to ensure they are who they say they are. After getting to know them and chatting with them for a while on one platform or website, move to another platform. For example: if you met someone in a web forum, see what they post on Twitter or befriend them on Facebook to learn more about them. If you trust them enough and have your parents’ permission, you can even text or message them through Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. Try calling each other or sharing selfies. Check for consistency and timing. If they always need time to take a phone call or send a photo while actively online, they could be searching for the right photo of someone else or use a voice changer. Or if the images are of clearly different people, they’re hiding who they are.
This process may take a few months to a few years. Getting to know other people who are friends in real life can help as well. Always use your best judgement and inform your parents about who you’re talking to and what platform–and please listen to them when they ask you to stop. People lie about who they are online all of the time and there are still predators looking for young, impressionable people to prey on. Some people even make a living off of their personas who are usually different than their real personality and features (such as VTubers and cosplayers). This is not always a bad thing, but you should still be careful.