Staying Safe Online


Senior Ben Warth gets caught in an internet gmail phishing scam. Warth carefully avoided getting caught in the scam, but it is easy for students to get trapped online.

Entertainment. Connection. Creativity. Social media has risen to prominence on the back of these characteristics, becoming the forefront of modern entertainment.
And why not?
Social media giants like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat, all have the capability for you to communicate with your friends online, stay connected to current events, all with content and entertainment for every possible online audience.
On paper, this sounds like a dream. For many, it is as such. Although within the use of social media lies the reality that there are many real dangers that users face.
Recently, Prince George’s County Police discovered several social media extortion threats that targeted middle school students within the county. The threats took place via Instagram and TikTok.
Four students faced a ransom of $1,000 through their social media accounts, with the threat of danger if the students did not cooperate. After the initial threat, students refused to respond. This led to additional threats, with the attacker sending images of the childrens’ homes via Google maps to them.
Thankfully, all of the students are safe, and it is currently unclear of what proved the attacker or their identity, but the situation represents an underlying issue amongst modern day technology use.
Many social media platforms require you to provide personal information in order to use their app. To sign up, many platforms ask for your name, birthdate, phone number, and email address. In addition, these sites are monitoring your every move on their platform.
These platforms monitor the content you engage with, accounts you follow, private messages you send, all in various efforts to commercialize their app and experience.
Information is sold directly from the platform to analytic firms and databases, where they process your interests and disinterests in an effort to tailor an advertising campaign suited to you.
In the $1.7 trillion bipartisan spending bill passed last month, government officials banned TikTok from all government issued devices. With Tiktok owned by Chinese internet technology company ByteDance, U.S. officials are concerned that ByteDance is sharing U.S. user data with the Chinese government, threatening U.S. privacy and making citizens vulnerable.
The bill also states that it is necessary for e-commerce platforms to make an effort to stop counterfeit goods from being sold online to protect kids from spending money on duplicate or counterfeit products.
“It’s so important to make sure that you know what you’re doing on the internet,” senior Rakan Alqadi said. “Anyone can steal information from you or scam you out of money.”
Internet scammers often try to take advantage of the youth, relying on their immature spontaneous nature to try and influence them into buying knock-off or duplicate products.
In addition to personal threats and data security issues, misinformation thrives on the internet and social media spaces. Due to the instant gratification and “scrolling” nature of social media, we have the tendency of reading a quick headline or piece of information and taking it for fact.
Over recent months, Elon Musk’s purchasing of Twitter has brought immense speculation about how easy it is to spread false information and narratives on Twitter. Bots are a common tool for misinformation, as they pose as real accounts, despite having no user and solely operating to spread instant misinformation.
When reading a headline or post, identify the source, if the user is unverified or is aligned with certain narratives or beliefs, there is a chance that their message is designed less for the spreading of true information, and more for creating narratives or creating controversy.
There are several steps that you can take to protect yourself from online threats and misinformation. Do not interact with strangers on the internet, do not message or share your location with people you do not know, and keep your personal information private.
When purchasing products online, evaluate the seller and their validity. If a website seems sketchy, there is a good chance that it is. Do not take chances, the risk to reward ratio is often not worth it.
Do not take a random social media post or statistic for face value, do your own research using credible sources to prevent yourself from becoming misinformed.
Social media has become an integral part of the internet space, and it creates new possibilities and opportunities for users. At the same time, the lack of regulations can create a dangerous space that thrives on taking advantage of young users.