Aware of the Dangers

Before serving in the Philippines I had an interview with the Consulate in San Francisco. The interview only took 5 minutes allowing me and a group of friends to walk around the city for the rest of the day. Having been to visit the city a number of times before there were some places I knew about where I could take my friends. They on the other hand had not seen a city larger than Salt Lake City and were amazed by the size of the city.

Contrast this with my first visit to New York City. I have seen movies of the city, read the stories of crime and danger on every street corner. Preparing myself to visit I made sure to reduce the valuables I carried, tried to blend in and keep my family close so no one would get lost or otherwise harmed.

Today I am comfortable in most places, I can take my family to places and am aware of what to expect to keep them safe. One place that many of us fail to recognize as a very dangerous place is the internet. Like a large city, the internet has everything to offer. The internet includes places to see, things to do, some great cultural experiences and places of real learning. It also has the very real  dangers of crime, exploitation harm to both the mind and body.

Tools and Pitfalls
Properly used, many of the tools on the internet can be used for good. However, it is too easy to be overwhelmed or otherwise misunderstand when a good thing becomes bad through abuse. Some very broad categories of tools on the internet may include communication, collaboration, organizing, research and planning tools. You may recognize these by their common names: email, Google, Facebook, Flickr, chat, texting, geotagging and online banking.

By themselves none of these are inherently bad. They allow us to work, socialize, reduce expenses, and automate many of the things we do in life. However we can misuse them. We can be drawn in by get-rich-quick schemes, become victims to sexual predators both real and virtual and release private financial information for criminal intentions.

Remaining Safe
Safety in the internet is possible with some very basic steps. Act on the internet as you would in real life. You wouldn’t yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre nor would you pick a fight with the town bully. It is unlikely you would walk down a street known for filthy activities or expect to remain safe writing your PIN number on your ATM card. Yet, people do these things on the internet because it feels anonymous. They may say no one will ever know if I go here, peek there, or keep my information secret by doing this. Consider the internet as the public’s way into your living room.

Use The Tools
If you fail to use the tools technology freely provides you do yourself a disservice. If you use them unwisely you are worse off for yourself but for those around you as well. Be wise. Act as though you are being watched, consider that every action you make could be seen by your Grandmother, remember the picture you post today could be seen by a future employer 20 years down the road.

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