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How to support someone in using social media safely

Social media can be a great tool for individuals with intellectual disabilities. It can be used to:

  • Keep in touch with friends and family
  • Play games
  • Post and look at photos
  • Blog
  • Learn new skills
  • Look up and research various hobbies

Unfortunately, the internet can also be a dangerous place in a variety of ways, including internet hoaxes, scams and viruses, cyber bullying, and online predators.

Here are ways in which you can help ensure individuals with intellectual disabilities are using the social media in a safe manner:

  • Educate yourself about the site. When supporting an individual with an intellectual disability who is using social media, do a bit of research on the websites they’re using. Read and understand the privacy policy of the website and learn how to set privacy settings on sites such as Facebook.
  • Communicate with the individual about their experiences. Encourage them to tell you if something they encounter on one of these sites makes them feel anxious, uncomfortable, or threatened.
  • Talk with the individual about keeping private things private. As a basic rule, you should not post anything onto social media that you would not show or say to everyone in a public place like a store, a bus or a coffee shop.
    • The internet is very public and once you have posted a comment, photo or video, it cannot be erased or taken back. As an example, anything that you put on your Facebook page is owned by Facebook and stays on Facebook even if you remove it.
    • Websites make the decision on what to do with the information and this could include sharing or selling the information with other companies or websites as a means to make money.
    • You cannot control how many times it is copied and it may be used against you. An embarrassing picture could show up in public many years after you posted it onto the internet.
  • When using Facebook, encourage individuals to communicate with people they have only met in person. Some individuals may not understand the risks associated with communicating with people they have never met in person. Try to talk to them about the dangers of communicating with strangers and encourage them to keep their facebook account private, and only friend people they know in real life
  • Encourage the use of nicknames on public platforms. Have a conversation about using only an individual’s first name or nickname to help protect their identity.
  • Warn individuals against the use of other identifiable information. This includes their phone numbers and address, the name of their school or workplace and their neighborhood information. Too much information can make an individual vulnerable to internet fraud or predators.
  • Help choose photos wisely. Photographs can reveal personal information. Help an individual choose a profile picture that does not include identifiable details such as street signs, license plates, or the names of their school or workplaces.
  • Warn the individual about expressing emotions to strangers. Many internet cyberbullies or predators will search for emotionally vulnerable individuals. Discourage the individual from posting emotionally charged status updates or online journal entries.
  • Encourage individuals to always be courteous online. The person with a developmental disability can sometimes be engaged in cyber bullying. A conflict with a friend or co-worker can quickly get worse when personal attacks and name calling are posted on Facebook, especially if other Facebook Friends join in with their own putdowns of the targeted person.
  • Help the person to realize that the same rules of relating to others that apply in real life apply online. As a basic rule, you should treat people, whether online or offline, as you would yourself like to be treated by others:
    • Don’t post anything that may hurt others or be against the law.
    • Don’t be rude or use abusive language.
    • Don’t post anything when you are angry. Rather than posting right away, save it as a draft and re-read it the next day before you post it. Once you have calmed down and thought about it, you will often change it prior to posting it or maybe you won’t post it at all.

Other tips for Internet Safety

  • Consider keeping computers in family room/communal space. Keeping the computer in a communal space can ensure individuals aren’t vulnerable to online predators, scams or viruses.
  • Install filters. Internet filter software can be purchased to control what sites can be accessed.
  • Protect your computer with anti-virus applications. Computer viruses can harm your computer. Prevent the risk of a computer virus by installing an anti-virus software.

For more tips on Internet Safety read the ‘Do’s and Don’ts of Staying Safe on the Internet’

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