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Here’s some easy ways to protect yourself from the dangers of social media

Jerry Mitchell has an important message that is particularly relevant for young people – social media can be fun. It can keep us connected to friends and relatives in a pandemic. It can make school less of a chore, and it can open new worlds far from home.

But social media also can be dangerous.

Mitchell is Outreach Specialist with Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, and he’s on a mission to help young people stay safe on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter and wherever else they share their lives online. He spoke this week to high school and college students participating in the summer internship and enrichment program organised by The World Affairs Council of Harrisburg and the PA Media Group.

Social media is a remarkable way for people to stay in contact with friends and to learn about what’s going on in their communities. But it’s just a fact, social media has a darker side. Mitchell says even LinkedIn, which is supposed to be a network of professionals, is being misused to dupe the unsuspecting and to peddle misinformation.

Bad actors as far away as Germany, Russia and China steal online identifies, hack Facebook accounts and get unsuspecting people to reveal credit card numbers, passwords and even transfer thousands of dollars responding to someone they think is a trusted friend in distress.

With so much potential danger, it’s understandable why some people decide to just stay away from social media altogether. But that’s just not an option for most young people. Their world is both physical and virtual, especially in the age of Covid-19.

That’s why Mitchell’s mission is so important. Social media is here to stay. The virtual world is as real to millions of people as brick and mortar. But just as there are “street-smarts” that can keep you out of trouble, there are also cyber-smarts… things you need to know online. Mitchell says “cyber-smarts” begin with three simple facts:

What you post online – good, bad and ugly — will follow you the rest of your life

Online bullying, threats and posts that harass and defame can bring both criminal and civil penalties

Criminals, including those in foreign countries, are prowling social media, looking to steal identities, hack bank accounts and lure the innocent, especially children, into danger

These warning may seem common sense, but every young person on a computer needs to hear Mitchell’s messages, and he’s more than happy to speak at any school, church, community centre or Zoom event to warn young and old alike about how to stay safe online.

The Attorney General’s office has posted information online to help both parents and young people better understand cybersafety. And the office has posted some startling facts:

43% of children have been bullied online

Only one in 10 children will inform a parent or trusted adult they are being bullied

One in five teens have posted or sent suggestive or nude pictures of themselves to others

Protecting kids – from themselves and others – is at the heart of Mitchell’s mission. He’s dedicated to helping parents better understand how to control and monitor their children’s social media to keep them out of cyber trouble. And, he’s cool enough to connect with young people, who often live more in the virtual world than in the real one.

Mitchell is right about another thing. Cybersafety is only going to get more urgent as the number of hackers and predators increases, and as we all live out more of our lives online. Social media is a fact of modern life, and with a few simple precautions, it doesn’t have to be so dangerous. – Pennlive.com/Tribune News Service

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