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Use social media and online chat

Understand the risks of being online and what you can do to have a safer experience.

Social media services and online chat are great ways to stay in touch and find new friends, but there are also risks.

The landscape of social media is evolving. Traditional social media services like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are great ways to stay in touch and keep across the latest news and trends. Private messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat are also increasingly popular. Google Docs is even being used as a chat app by young people. 

What are the risks?

  • Anonymity — it can be easier to say and do things online that you might not do offline, which can lead to damaging or negative experiences for others.
  • Cyberbullying and online abuse — online abuse and harassment are a risk for anyone using social media and chat apps. Learn more about cyberbullying and adult cyber abuse.
  • Image-based abuse — an intimate image of you could be shared online without your consent. Learn more about image-based abuse and the risks of sending nudes and sexting.
  • Sharing too much information — for example, photos from a party might be OK for close friends to see but can become an issue if shared more widely and could damage your digital reputation.
  • Not protecting your personal information — account details and location-based information can be used inappropriately by others to find you or access your online accounts. It is important that you understand the risks associated with disclosing information about yourself online and know how to manage both your privacy and online friends. Learn more about how to protect your personal information and set strong passwords.
  • Treating online friends as real friends — it's easy for people to lie online, including those who are seeking children and young people in order to abuse them. Make sure you are careful about how well you really know your online ‘friends'. Learn more about unwanted contact and what to do if someone is contacting you and you don’t want them to.

What are location-based services?

Many social media and chat apps take advantage of location-based services, which enable users to report their physical location to others via their mobile phone. By using this function, users can physically locate friends and others and see where they are. You can also ‘check-in' from a location to let others know your whereabouts.

On some social media services, the location-based functions are turned on by default. To manage these services, and retain your privacy, review your privacy settings to block the function or to limit who sees your location-based information.

What can I do to have a safer experience while using social media and online chat?

Limit your friend list — don't 'friend' random people or allow people you don’t know to ‘follow’ your social media accounts.

Adjust your privacy settings — make your accounts private so that only friends you know face-to-face can see what you post. Read more about privacy settings below and see the eSafety guide for information about how to update your privacy settings.

Your personal information is valuable — don't share it. Learn more about how to protect your personal information.

Protect your digital reputation — think before you share something and ask yourself, would you want anyone to see this in five years’ time?

Once you share something you lose control of it — remember that once a message, photo or video has been shared online, you may not be able to control where it goes or how long it stays online.

Be careful who you trust — not everyone online is who they say they are.

Look out for things that don’t add up — such as another user whose online profile is not consistent with what you see and hear when you talk or chat with them.

If someone says ‘my web cam is broken’, this may indicate that they are trying to scam or deceive you.

How do I control my privacy settings?

All social media sites have their own version of ‘default' privacy and security settings. It is important that you know how the app or service works and how to change the settings to protect your personal information. 

It is also a good idea to check your privacy settings regularly, as sometimes updates to social media services or apps may also change the ‘default’ privacy settings.

The eSafety Guide gives you access to step-by-step instructions about how to control your privacy settings for many social media services, apps and games.

What to do if things go wrong

If someone is threatening or harassing you online, read our tips and advice about how to deal with cyberbullying (for people under the age of 18) or how to deal with adult cyber abuse. You can also report cyberbullying to us.

If you are experiencing online abuse or stalking from a current or former partner, read our advice on how to deal with technology-facilitated abuse as part of domestic and family violence.

If someone has shared, or is threatening to share, an intimate, nude or sexual image of you, you can make an image-based abuse report to us. Find out more about image-based abuse.

If someone is contacting you and you don’t want them to, read our advice about unwanted contact.

Information for parents and teachers

Parents and carers can find more information about the risks of social media and chat apps by reading about the big issues and exploring our skills and advice articles.

Teachers and educators can use classroom resources about social media and online safety, including Cybersmart Challenge, Tagged and GameOn.