10 Common Mistakes to Avoid That Will Keep Your High School Students Safe Online

As an ongoing part of our Practice Safe Sharing Campaign for high schools, we’re raising awareness about common issues that face teens and high school students in this increasingly digital age. We already wrote about the facts of cyber bullying, and this week we’ll cover 11 common mistakes a lot of students make when using the internet and social networks.

1. Not Knowing What Information is Already Online

Your first step in protecting yourself online is to know what’s out there under your name so you can clean up any embarrassing or overly sensitive personal information. To do this, do a quick Google search for your name (and home town or any other relevant keywords like “athlete” or “musician”). Then look yourself up on popular social networks with Topsy. Lastly, search your name in a few of the top people search databases and request to have any records of you or your family taken down.

2. Check the Privacy Settings on Social Network Apps

When you install an app to your Facebook page (or any other social network) there’s always a screen about allowing permissions before the app can be installed. Most people click through this screen to get to the app as fast as humanly possible, but these two simple steps may save you hours of headache in the future:

  1. Stop.
  2. Read.

If an app seems like it is requesting suspicious or unnecessary access to your profile, then decline the privacy settings and move on. Chances are there’s another one that does the same thing anyways.

3. Be Wary of Your Cell Phone

Cell phones and the apps on them raise an entire different set of privacy questions than social networking apps – this mainly has to do with the built-in geolocation features on most phones and apps, combined with generally worse security on mobile platforms than on desktop computers. A few months ago I went to install a flashlight app that was requesting permission to constant access to my geolocation. A flashlight doesn’t need to know that to work; this app company was trying to play me for my geolcation information. When in doubt, turn off geotargeting on your cell phone and carefully select which apps may access your location information.

4. Set Your Base Privacy Settings

This seems like a no-brainer, but before you do anything else you should make sure your base privacy settings are where you want them. Take 30 minutes and check your Facebook, Twitter, and Google account privacy settings and make sure the only public posts are the ones you want to be public.

Facebook Privacy Settings

Twitter Privacy Settings

Google Privacy Settings

5. Be Mindful of Oversharing

Many high schoolers don’t realize that what they post now, to a seemingly-private group of friends, might come back to haunt them months or even years down the road. There are thousands of programs that crawl websites and social networks and scrape as much data as they can. In this case, the best protection is to simply not post anything that could get you in trouble. A good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t say it to your grandma, don’t say it online.

An even better rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t say it to your grandchildren then don’t say it online.

6. Avoid Public Social Networks

If you’d rather just avoid the fear of oversharing, then avoid public social networks and sign up for a private social network like Sgrouples. We’ll never spy on you, track your behavior, or archive your content for our own personal gain. That way, anything you say between friends is guaranteed to stay private between those friends, forever.

7. Be Careful Using Your Real Name

Using your real name online isn’t always a bad thing – far from it (more on this in a minute). The problem comes from using your real name on sites where you wouldn’t want the content to track back to your real life. Perhaps the biggest culprit is twitter – a lot of people use their real names somewhere on their profile, and will make several public posts per day. If you don’t want to censor yourself online, then make sure there’s no way the content can be traced back to your real name.

online-reputation-management-bad-time

8. Use the Block Button

As I wrote about in the cyber bullying facts piece, a surprising percent of students have either experienced cyber bullying directly, or been involved in it tangentially. What many students don’t realize is that they have control over who they interact with on any social network, via the block button. If someone is causing you grief on a social network or public forum, don’t be afraid to block that person from interacting with you, and in many cases you can report their profile to the authorities for spam or abuse.

9. Changing Your Passwords

If you haven’t changed your Facebook password since Obama was elected president (…in 2008), then now might be a good time to do so. The longer you leave the same password on an account, the more vulnerable you are to security breaches. A good rule is to update your passwords and security questions every 3-4 months. Oh, and please for the love of god, don’t use 1 password for all your social networks. We’ve covered the importance of unique passwords before, and this one simple step can make the difference between protecting your identity, or falling victim to identity theft.

10 . Not Being Proactive

Using your real name online can be a good thing – if you tie your name to truthful, positive content about yourself. Get proactive and start creating a positive web presence for you name; this will help when college admissions boards or future employers look you up. If you’re a member of a school club or team, see if you can have your name put on the school website somewhere. And if you want an extra leg up, start a professional blog about your hobbies or interests. A little prevention can go a long way in protecting yourself online. Don’t just passively wait until you have an online crisis to do something about your web presence.


Remember: on the Internet an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Taking a few minutes to ensure you or your students are safe online is a small price to pay for the trouble it can save down the road. And in the increasingly-frequent cases of cyber bullying reported each year, these simple steps might just save a student’s life.

If you found these tips helpful be sure you follow us on Twitter & like us on Facebook to stay in touch with the latest online privacy tips and updates. If you’re a parent or school administrator interested in educating your children about being safe online, then check out our Practice Safe Sharing campaign for high schools.