The author, Parry Aftab, is an Internet privacy and security lawyer and an expert in cybercrime and best practices.
One of the biggest problems we have online is that no one thinks between their brain dump typing and clicking “send.” There is a filter between what we think and our mouths called “being polite.” Generally this filter kicks in when we are looking someone in the eye and think about how he or she would respond and how others around you would respond if you say what you really wish you could say. But when we sit in front of the computer, there are no eyes to look into. Just us and the computer monitor. And just as we can say outrageous things in our diaries, typing them online seems private.
It is also fun to say things that you know you shouldn’t say. Wouldn’t it be really great to tell that bully off? Or tell your best friend how mean they were…or that snotty girl in class that she really isn’t as gorgeous as she thinks she is…or that “popular” guy how he is just stupid? Or tell your teacher that she isn’t as smart as she thinks, or [fill in the blank]? Everyone has things they wish they could say. But usually when we break the rules and say them, we wish we could take it back.
That’s the problem. You can never really take it back. When you send or post something online, it lives on forever in archives, caching and other places…like the energizer bunny, it keeps on going and going and going. So, what can you do? The more you plan in advance how you will deal with hurtful things online, the easier it will be when they happen.
Be your own filter. Use the one between your ears. You can think before you type. And think again before you click “send.” Read what you wrote. Does it really say what you wanted it to say? Can it be misunderstood? Are you sending it to the right address? Are you sure? Will you regret sending it? If there is any question, don’t send it. And give yourself as much time as you can. Walk away from the computer. Listen to some music. Take 5!
Write it but don’t send it. Set up a file on your computer. A kind of “brain dump” journal, where you can save things you wish you could say, but know you shouldn’t. Sometimes just writing them down is enough to make you feel better. You can always go back and read what you wrote later and see how you feel about it. Most of the time you will probably be happy you never sent it. Sometimes you may forget what made you angry to begin with.
Just make sure that if you are going to keep these mean things on your computer, you keep them private. Use a password to protect them, or encrypt them. And if you are saying mean things about people in your family you may not want to keep them on your computer at all. And when you don’t need something in this journal anymore, delete it. And learn from what you delete. Are you relieved that you never sent it? Did writing it make you feel better?
Write it but only send it to your cyber-buddy. Sometimes just writing and saving it isn’t enough. You are angry and want to share that with someone. Instead of sharing it with the person you really want to attack, find a trustworthy friend or family-member you can send it to. Choose someone who is understanding and a good listener. Choose someone who keeps secrets. Choose someone who really cares about you. If you have a good relationship with your parents, you may want to choose one of them.
Write it, but wait 24 hours before sending it. Sometimes just writing it or sending it to your cyber-buddy isn’t enough. Sometimes you really think you should send it. Okay. Maybe you should. But before you do, write it and save it in your 24-hour file first. That may give you enough time to calm down. It usually works.