Beau Biden

September 18th, 2013

Protect your privacy online – Attorney General Beau Biden

beaubidenParents teach their kids many lessons about safety while they’re growing up. We tell them to never talk to strangers, to buckle up each time they get in a car, and to look both ways before crossing the street. Another one that I urge caregivers to add to their list is protecting their children’s privacy and reputations online. What children post on social media, and send in texts and e-mail can create situations where they can fall prey to predators. Additionally, what is put online stays with them forever with potentially devastating repercussions including being the subject of bullying in school and out, not getting into their top choices for college, or not being able to land their dream jobs.

Over the past seven years, I have spoken to more than 30,000 Delaware schoolchildren about staying safe online. When I started these school visits, I focused mainly on online predators and teaching kids not to talk to strangers in chat rooms or over video game networks. The Child Predator Task Force that my office created in 2007 marked its 150 conviction recently with a case of an adult male using the Internet to lure who he thought was a young teenage girl to a park. Fortunately, the teenage girl was really an undercover Task Force detective.

Predators troll social media sites to look for information on profile pages they can use to groom potential victims. Information such as which school they attend, what sports they play, which organizations they belong to, where families go on vacation, or detailed profile data on sites like Facebook should remain private to keep it out of predators’ hands. Additionally, kids should only accept “friend” requests from other kids they actually know, to limit their potential exposure.

Predators are still a significant threat on which my office will remain focused. However, over the past few years, I have become increasingly concerned about the damage kids can do to their reputations online because that damage can have life-changing consequences.

Many kids do not know that there is no such thing as privacy online. You might think you are telling something to a few close friends, but once you touch the screen by hitting send or post, your words or pictures will be out there forever.  It used to be that what a child said about themselves or others could be forgotten after a few days, but with social media, those comments will be online forever and for everyone to see.

Something a kid thinks is funny now will still be found online years from now by their future children or potential employers. Children do not realize that when they go to apply for their first job or to a college or university that employer or admissions counselor can easily Google their names and find their Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts. What is found in those accounts could be there difference between them landing the job or the cherished spot in the freshman class.

As adults, we too, must watch what we post online since kids model what they see from their parents, caregivers, and mentors. Unfortunately, too many adults also have a false sense of privacy when they send out information on their computer at home or from their smart phone while they are out with their friends. People say things about themselves online that they would never shout out over a microphone in a public place or want printed in the paper. It’s important for us to realize there’s no distinction between posting something on a social media account and shouting out that information on a street corner.

Children will eventually learn that the Internet is forever and that it is important to protect their privacy on social media sites, and I want that lesson to come from parents and caregivers, not the hard way through contact with a predator, loss of a job, or the destruction of a reputation. I hope you’ll join me in not only educating our children about these risks, but in seeking to make smarter and safer choices about what we put online.

Beau Biden is the Attorney General for the state of Delaware.

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