A Letter to Teens on ASKfm

Dear ASKfm Teens,

My name is Hemanshu (Hemu) Nigam, and I’m an online safety, security, and privacy expert working with the ASKfm safety team. For more than 20 years, I’ve worked alongside many companies like ASKfm, helping to keep teenagers safe online. It’s always been my mission to make the newest and most exciting technologies safer and more secure for users, and much of my work is devoted to protecting teens like you. It’s not through my role as a safety expert that I reach out to you today, though.  It’s as a father of teenagers who are growing up in the digital world, just like all of you are.

Growing up in the digital age, you already know a lot about all things tech. In fact, I’m sure you’re way past your parents with your techie knowledge. You might even be doing what my kids do a lot – teaching your parents how to set up their devices or running to their rescue when they can’t navigate a website their buying something from.  You’ve grown up using a laptop, iPad, and game console.  And, if you’re anything like my teenagers at home, your smartphone is likely one of your most prized possessions.

Whatever your abilities, though, there are still lessons to be learned. The Internet is one of the greatest resources available to young people today, as long as we use it in a way that keeps the dangers away and the risks low.

More important than anything else, everything you do online leaves a digital fingerprint and footprint.  These digital prints are nearly impossible to erase.  The decisions you make online today can impact your life far into the future. College admissions officers, employers, your grandparents—they all have access to the Internet and may see the things you post online. Once you upload something to your profile, especially comments, photos and videos, they can be difficult to get rid of or make disappear.

Your words are just as powerful as your actions as well. Teens experience cyberbullying just like they do in the offline, and the things you say online to others can have devastating consequences.  We used to think of bullying as something that happened on the playground.  The kid who got bullied went home with a bruise or a scratch.  It hurt and it was a reminder of how hurtful others were toward him or her.  Words and negative images posted by you or against you are just as painful.  As long as they are on a site, they’re a reminder of the pain you or someone you may hurt is feeling.  That‘s why it is so important to think before you post.  It’s just too easy for a class mate to copy and paste or forward what was posted to even more people.  If it would hurt you, it will also hurt someone else.

Sadly, it’s not just your own actions we have to think about. Other people will try to steal your personal information, and not everyone online has your well-being in mind. Your online image represents you and it showcases just who you are – it’s valuable.  Even your closest friends can threaten this image, especially when they post inappropriate content of you or use your password to access your accounts to impersonate you.

As a safety expert, and even more so as a father, I encourage you to take charge of your own safety, security, and privacy. You can have fun with all the opportunities the Internet has to offer while still protecting your image and being careful.

Here are a few tips that might be helpful:

  1. Try to find an offline world equivalent to whatever you are doing online and then ask yourself, “What would I do in the real world?” Almost always you will find the best answer to what will keep your safer, more secure, and protect your privacy.
  2. As you post something, imagine your parents or grandparents reading it and decide if this is the type of teen or grandchild they would want you to be.
  3. Try posting things you want to be remembered by when you’ve left high school and gone off to college or work. It will be fun to look back on it and be proud.

Even though it’s up to you to take the first step to take charge of your own digital footprints and online safety, you’re never alone. Your family, teachers, friends, and the ASKfm safety team are here to help. If ever you find yourself in trouble or have questions, please reach out to them on their Contact Us page.  You can also visit ASKfm’s Safety Center to get more information on how to protect your privacy and use the site safely.

Have fun, make new friends, and explore all ASKfm has to offer, but please stay safe along the way!