The following definitions should help you understand and become more aware of the virtual world around you:
Cyber Stalking -- rude or threatening messages; slanderous information; or repeated, unwanted messages.
Social Networking -- a web site specifically focused on the building and verifying of social networks for whatever purpose. Many social networking services are also blog hosting services. As of 2005, there are over three hundred known social networking web sites.
IM -- A service that allows people to send and get messages almost instantly. To send messages using Instant Messaging you need to download an Instant-Messaging program and know the Instant-Messaging address of another person who uses the same Instant-Messaging program.
Chat Rooms -- An interactive forum where you can talk in real-time. The chatroom is the place or location online where the chat is taking place. Many chatrooms are established so that people can discuss a common interest like music or movies. For example Webster likes to go to the "Browser Ball" chatroom so that he can talk about his favorite game.
Blogs -- (short for web log) - A web log is usually defined as a personal or noncommercial web site that uses a dated log format (usually with the most recent at the top of the page) and contains links to other web sites along with commentary about those sites. A web log is updated frequently and sometimes groups links by specific subjects, such as politics, news, pop culture, or computers.
Online Forums -- A group for people to exchange information about a common topic. Virtual message boards or discussion groups that are subject-specific on the Internet. Participants in a newsgroup conduct discussions by posting messages for others to read and respond to the messages posted by others. It's like a community bulletin board where you can post and read messages
Online Dating Sites -- Websites designed to list personal adds or match up individuals based on "compatibility" via surveys they take.
What Does the Law Say?
According to Virgina Law, if any person, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, or harass any person, shall use a computer or computer network to communicate obscene, vulgar, profane, lewd, lascivious, or indecent language, or make any suggestion or proposal of an obscene nature, or threaten any illegal or immoral act, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
The ODU Student Handbook details ODU's policies regarding cyber safety.
Examples: AOL IM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger
Do not give your personal information.
This includes your last name, home or work address, phone number, schedule, or any other information that can be used to track you down. The person you are IMing may not be who they say they are, so take precautions.
Choose a non-identifiable, non-gender specific screen name.
Learn how to block messages from people you don't want contacting you.
Don't respond to harassing messages, just block them.
You can also block messages from those who aren't on your friends list, just in case a harasser changes their screenname. Check with your IM provider on how to do this.
Never accept files or downloads from people you don't know or from people you do know if you weren't expecting them. This includes URLs.
Never arrange to meet someone offline that you only know through IM conversations.
If you insist on meeting them, take a friend (or two), tell someone where you will be and when, and meet in a public place.
Make sure you know how to save copies of your IM conversations.
This is in case you are being harassed and need proof to show the police.
Remember your Netiquette and be nice.
Don't send mean IM messages or incite others to do so.
If you use a shared or public computer (Example: at home, work or college) do not use the automatic login that comes as standard with most IM programs.
Most IM clients allow you to control if people on your contact list can see if you're online.
That means you can set your IM client so that when you log on, nobody can see you. This gives you time to check out which of your contacts are online, and if there are any contacts you don't recognize.
IM screen names should be kept private.
If you post your IM screen name then you are making yourself a target for unsolicited IM messages. Remember, with many IM programs, your screen name can be used to identify your email address.
You should only communicate with contacts you recognize.
If someone you do not know sends you a request to add them to your contacts, decline it and block them until you are sure you know who that person is. Likewise, if you plan to ask someone if you can be added to their contact list, make sure they know you are going to do that by emailing them and/or asking them first.
Don't have a public profile.
Having a public profile with your age, sex, hobbies and interest can help you meet similar people, but can also make you the subject of harassment, even if you don't post your name or address.
Be sure you know who is receiving the IMs you send.
Even if you know the recipients, anything you type can be forwarded to other people. There is no way to take back what you send.
Be careful about using video or digital cameras and sending images of yourself during an IM session.
Remember, you don't have to respond to any messages especially if they are rude, annoying, or make you feel uncomfortable.
Examples: Yahoo, AOL Chat
Be careful who you trust online and remember that online friends are really strangers.
People online, no matter how long you have been talking to them or how friendly they are, may not be who they say they are.
Anything you type in a chat room can be seen by everyone who is using that chat room so never type anything you wouldn't say in public.
Stay in charge in chat.
Keep your personal information secret when chatting online (name, address, phone numbers, private email address, picture) even if people ask for this. Although it can be tempting to reveal more than you normally would in online friendships, giving out personal information can make you vulnerable.
Check your profile and make sure it doesn't contain any personal or identifying information.
Never accept files or downloads or click on URLs from people you don't know.
Meeting someon you have only been in touch with online can be dangerous.
If you insist on meeting someone that you've met online, be sure to tell a few trusted friends where you're going, who you're going to meet, and when, meet in a public place and in the daytime, and take a friend with you. If they are really who they say they are and are not a predator, this should not be a problem for them.
Make sure you know how to report problems to the chat room moderator.
Make sure you know how to block users.
For whatever reason you may wish not to see messages from a particular person anymore or receive private messages from them. If this is so you can block the person. To do this you right click on the name of the person in the contact list which should give you a range of options, and one of these is block. It will mean that you will not receive messages from this person anymore. Block is sometimes called "Ignore", and if right clicking doesn't work, have a look in your Preferences for this function, or there may be a block/ignore button in the chatroom itself.
Make sure you know how to save copies of your chat room conversations.
Highlight the conversation with your mouse, copy the highlighted text, and paste the conversation into a Word document which you can save.
Remember your Netiquette and be nice!
Don't send mean chat messages, get involved in chat room arguments (flaming) or incite others to do so.
Examples: MySpace, FaceBook, LiveJournal, Xanga, Blogspot, AOL Blogs
Remember that anyone can read your post, unless you make your posts private or "friends only".
Also, be careful what you post. Someone may be able to put together enough clues through your posts to find you in real life. Be careful about posting real names of people, locations, or any other identifying features.
Don't fill in your profile with all kinds of identifying information.
Leave out your real or whole name, date of birth, and all your contact information. If you want people to be able to contact you, use a secondary email address. Avoid putting in your Instant Messenger information, unless you've set it up to be secure.
If you do get a harassing comment, you want to save the message as "evidence", but you want to remove the comment from public view. You can do this by screening the comment. Check the comments options for how to do this. Also, report harrassment to the networking site if they violate that site's terms of service.
Be careful when joining "communities".
Go through the information page and read the posts in the community to see if its exactly what you're looking for. Make sure that the community has a moderator. This is a person who takes care of problems and bans people when things get out of hand.
Learn how to block unwanted users.
Remember though that even if you block people from commenting, if you continue to post publicly, they can still see whatever you post.
Think before posting your photos.
Avoid posting provacative pictures of yourself or anyone else, and be sure any images you provide do not reveal any personal or identifying information. This may attract predators. Always remember to look at the background of pictures too.
Only add people as friends to your site if you know them in real life.
Never arrange to meet someone offline that you only know online.
If you insist on meeting them, take a friend (or two), tell someone where you will be and when and who you are going to meet, and meet in a public place.
Examples: Discussion Groups,Newsgroups,Message Boards, Bulletin Boards, and Listservs
Don't reveal your personal information.
Unlike chat, which takes place in "real time", online discussion postings are archived and remain online and can be read by anyone, if the discussion group is a public one and by any of the members, if the community is a private one.
Be careful what you include in your profile.
Some forums allow you to include a profile. The best way to stay out of trouble is not to fill out a profile at all, but if you decide to include one, be cautious about what you reveal (ex: age, sex, hometown, school or place of work).
Avoid clicking on links provided by other members of the forum.
It could lead to an unsuitable website or a page designed to activate a virus.
Never use your primary e-mail address for online discussions.
As soon as you publicize any e-mail address online spammers will target you. Create an anonymous e-mail address for all online communications of this type. There are many free Web mail providers with good spam filters, such as Yahoo!, Lycos and Hotmail.
Never include any personally identifiable information in your e-mail and/or newsgroup settings.
Predators can use that information to track you down and/or stalk you.
This is what happens when a discussion gets out of hand and one or more of the parties involved uses derogatory, abusive or aggressive tactics. Flaming will usually result in a ban and the best way to deal with a flame attack is to ignore it, report it and let the moderator deal with it. Responding or retaliating to a flamer is a fast track to trouble and can cause all kinds of other problems such as cyberbullying and cyberstalking both within and outside of the discussion.
Examples: eHarmony, Match.com, Yahoo! Personals, etc...)
Keep in mind, there are always risks in dating, epsecially when you date strangers (blind dates, first dates and cyber-dates).
Cyberdating is a little different from other first dates. When you first meet a cyberdate in person, offline, you feel as though you know them. The normal first date precautions are often tossed to the wind. You know their favorite actors, authors, foods, etc...
YOU DO NOT REALLY KNOW THEM. You know everything they have told you,but they may not have been telling you the truth. Treat them as strangers, and use all the normal precautions you use with strangers, even cute ones.
You should not give any more information to a first cyberdate than you would to a stranger you meet on a plane, or in a club or bar.
When choosing an online dating service, don't be lured in by celebrity endorsements or "come-ons". Use your common sense and gut feeling when you check the services out.
Look for services that do complete background checks and have more stringent requirements.
Use a service that uses an anonymizer or re-mailer to mask your real e-mail, or set up a free account (ex: Hotmail) just for dating online. Cyber romance can quickly turn intoc cyberstalking. It is better to be able to terminate that particular account than to have to set up a new main account, and notify everyone you know.
Take it slow. Take your time to try to get to know the person online first. Everyone can put their best cyber-foot forward in the first couple of e-mails. Being consistent is tougher. Make sure you keep the old e-mails to compare the information they give you. They could easily be lying, so check for inconsistencies.
Ask a friend what they think. Sometimes they are not blinded by the same rose-colored glasses you might be.
Trust your "gut feelings". If something doesn't feel right, move on.
Limit contact to your dating services' resources (their chat/IM/e-mail, etc...) until you are sure that you are ready to move to more personal contact (private e-mail/phone, etc...)
Do NOT respond to pressure of any kind.
Avoid false intimacy. If a real, lasting, relationship is what you want, behave in an appropriate manner.
Personal information that would let someone find you offline should never be shared online. This includes, but is not limited to, your full name, where you work, live, or your phone number.
Start with a phone call. You should move from fantasies and chatting online to a phone call before you meet offline in person. The safest way to do this is by using a public phone. Set up a time for the call, and give the other person the telephone number of the public phone. Once you are comfortable enough, you can share real phone numbers, but make sure you have caller ID. If things go sour, you can always block their calls, and the caller ID will let you know their real number. Do not accept blocked calls.
If you do meet, do it with a friend and in a very public place. Plan for a short visit for the first meeting. Tell them in advance that it will just be for a few minutes, so they will understand.
If they insist on meeting you alone, DON'T GO!
Tell a friend. Make sure someone other than the person going with you knows whom you are meeting, where you are going, and when you are coming back.
Store all of the online conversations, and let a friend know where to find them. If anything goes wrong, they will be the source of information on how to locate the person you have been chatting with.
Never go home with them. You can extend the meeting to dinner or anything else in a PUBLIC place. Do not go home with them or to a private place of any kind. Take this slow, even if you are not used to taking dating slow.
Report any attacks or threats to law enforcement. If things go wrong, whether you followed the rules or not, do not be embarrassed to go to the police. Give them all the facts. If you do not report this person, they in all likelihood will do it again.
You are allowed to say "no" and have it respected. If anything goes wrong, it is not your fault.
Do not be embarrassed to insist on following these rules. Your safety is the most important thing. Anyone who cares about you will respect you for being careful. Although you hope that the person you meet online is your true soul mate, you want to make sure you are safe.