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Are you in Good Hands?
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Online interactions often feel like fun and games, so it’s easy to get carried away. But before you start mouthing off about something that rubbed you the wrong way, be aware that lawsuits involving cyber libel (defaming a person, business or organization in writing by electronic means) and cyber bullying (personal attacks or threats by text, email or online) are on the rise. Kids in particular may not realize how their online behavior might affect your family’s legal liability. So take a few minutes to learn how to help everyone mind their social media manners.

Did You Know?

500M Tweets are sent per day
936M Average daily active users on Facebook as of March 2015
2.5B Daily likes on Instagram.

“It’s Just My Opinion…” That might be your defense if met with criticism for online posts (or “IMHO,” short for “in my humble opinion,” often used on Facebook and Twitter), but it’s no guarantee to keep you out of trouble. The same defamation laws and rules that govern print or broadcast media hold for electronic communications as well. Posts you make—including altered images—that are untrue, exaggerated or harmful to someone’s reputation can bring on a libel claim.

Anonymous Isn’t Obscure user names and silly avatars may give the impression that the source is unknown. But identities can be tracked. And while kids shouldn’t use their real names online, they should pick an ID that wouldn’t embarrass them in front of their grandparents or put down others.

Online Is Forever In our searchable universe, a snarky comment may live on even after it has been deleted from the original website or post location. In fact, by the time it’s deleted, it may have already been “shared” on another site or platform, or cached by the search engine.

Respect Others’ Privacy…And Your Own No one needs to know, or see, everything. These days, clubs, colleges and employers routinely search online to see how applicants present themselves, and others, in cyberspace. In particular, don’t give out addresses, phone numbers or other identifying details that others might use for the wrong reasons. And think again before you “subtweet,” or reference someone online without tagging their name, something negative—it’s still gossip even if you don’t name names but use descriptions that clearly point to one person.

Sit Back Before You Hit “Send” Read, reread, and then read your message again. Is your meaning clear? Did you start to rant, then forget to delete? A heated response to anyone else’s rude or inappropriate comment will only fan the “flame wars,” and may lead to something you can never take back. And even in a restricted forum, assume anyone, anywhere might see what you write. Your words—even your emojis— can be copied and forwarded, accidentally or on purpose. If you’re feeling angry or upset, log off.

If you or a loved one is on the receiving end of negative comments, contact the website operator or other platform host. Most online outlets post their content policy, which obligates them to remove offending material.

Tip
Online etiquette is a topic for the whole family, but cyber bullying and its consequences can hit teens the hardest. Talk to your young adult about online behavior.