The internet is full of useful, interesting and exciting stuff. It is crucial for doing homework, keeping in touch with friends and finding out about almost anything.
It is also a place where there is risk. This risk can come from the way you behave, for example if you bully someone else online, have fights, or do illegal things. The risk can also come from other people online who are trying to trick, hurt or bully you.
Most young people are very good at spotting risks online and knowing when they can solve a problem themselves, and when they need to involve an adult or the police.
This page contains safety information about some of the risks that you may find online, and safety tips that Oxfordshire young people have shared with us about staying healthy, happy and safe online.
Types of risk
There are many different kinds of risk online. They range from common things like getting spam emails, to serious scams where criminals work really hard to trick other people into giving them money, or personal information.
Some children and teenagers are more at risk than others. This might be because:
- They have large contact groups, or are in contact with a lot of people they don't know well
- They share a lot of information or seldom use privacy settings
- They are posting content which shows them acting in illegal or dangerous ways
For these young people, checking their friend groups, adjusting privacy settings and following online safety advice can be helpful.
But everyone should know what kinds of risks they might find online:
This common risk can be still be very serious. Everyone has seen something upsetting online, and everyone has been exposed to advertising, spam emails and dodgy "phishing" emails which try and persuade you to part with money.
More serious risks associated with content are illegal downloading, malicious advertising which installs spyware or viruses on your device and websites which try to gather your personal information.
Take action: Keep your virus protection and other security up to date. If you do have problems, websites like Should I remove it can help you get rid of spyware and other problems,
Another very serious risk is viewing risky images or content online. Some content is unpleasant and upsetting. Some is illegal. Everyone has differences in what they like to do and see online, but viewing some kinds of content (for example violent content, or pornography) can be very harmful, especially if you are looking at this content a lot, being secretive and collecting examples or images.
Discussing risks with your parents, teacher, or another adult can be helpful. If you or anyone you know is at risk of harm you must tell someone as quickly as possible. There are also things you can do to help yourself.
Take action: Report scam emails to Action Fraud, report criminal online content to the Internet Watch Foundation,
The way you behave can get you into trouble online. You can also get into trouble with other people being nasty to you online. This behaviour can be very upsetting to everyone who knows about it, not just the people who are having problems.
Some common cyberbullying problems with links to help:
In Oxfordshire, we do a Cyberbullying Survey to ask local children and young people about their experiences of Cyberbullying, what they are doing and what is happening in their school to help things improve. Schools have plans to help students be safe and happy online, agreements about acceptable online behaviour and campaigns to raise awareness such as competitions, special talks, champions and mentors.
My Experience: I think that if everyone online would really think about what they posted before they did, and of what the consequences could be, then there would be no cyberbullying and we would all be happier - Anti-Bullying Survey 2014-15.
Being contacted directly by someone who wants to hurt, trick or abuse you is a less common risk. But our survey suggests 6% of local young people have been sent a message asking to meet up.
This is a very dangerous risk.
Meeting people who you first met online is a normal part of growing up and finding new friends. But so is learning how to make sure that the person is who they say they are, and that any contact is safe, positive and careful.
Risky online relationships are often kept secret, and can cause very serious upset, stress and anxiety. They can lead to blackmail, and you and other people being abused or attacked.
Experience: Safe Stories has been created by Oxfordshire young people about the experience of recovering from crime. The story of Maddie and Mitchell explores the risks of making friends online and meeting up in real life. Some scenes may be upsetting, but look beneath the video for lots of useful information and links to where you can find out more. Read Safe Stories online.
A safe approach is to let an adult you trust (like your parent, carer, teacher, or another worker) know right away, even if you are worried that you have done something wrong. People who do bad things to other people online often do so again, to lots of different adults, children and young people. By reporting you are helping to protect everyone.
Crucial: If someone is in immediate danger, for example if they have gone to meet up with someone and you are worried about their safety, treat it as an emergency: discuss with a trusted adult and dial 999.
Out of control
Sometimes people do things they regret online. This might include posting things you regret or uploading pictures which can get you into trouble.
Deleting content online is sometimes possible, but copies are easily made.