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Communication Division
Basic tips to online Chatting
Online and mobile chat safety tips for:

General precautions you should take when chatting with people online

  • NEVER give personal information to anyone you have not met in person. While it is human nature to want to know about the other person, their name, age, what they look like, where they live, this information is not needed to carry on a conversation. If someone presses you for this type of information, back away! Especially if the requests come early in your relationship. Most users with legitimate intentions will realize WHY you are reluctant to tell them, and will respect your desire to play it safe.
  • NEVER agree to meet someone you have only met online unless you have a mutual friend that could possibly vouch for them.
  • If you are under the age of 18 NEVER meet up with someone you have only met online unless your parents not only know who this person is, but agree to go along with you to the meeting.
  • If you feel you just must meet a new online acquaintance, NEVER go alone, and ALWAYS meet in a very public place like a popular coffee shop, a busy shopping mall, or similar place.
  • Choose your screen name carefully. Never include your real name, or any elements of it. Choose something fun, yet gender neutral. You may think that having a risqué screen name is cute, but be advised, you will attract the type of people your screen name appeals to. A screen name such as “Panda” is much less provocative than “SexMagnet”. And much less offensive to many of your fellow netizens.
  • Resist the urge to ‘tell people off’ or engage in ‘flame wars’. People come in all temperaments, and as in real life, there are those who will try to provoke you into an argument. This type of activity is becoming all too common online these days. Many people feel power through the anonymity that the keyboard gives them. Therefore, if you encounter someone who is rude in online chats, ignore them, back away! Most importantly, resist the urge to strike back at them. This type of person craves the attention their behavior brings them. Deprived of this attention, most either quit acting like jerks, or else move on. Either way, you have avoided a confrontation that can quickly escalate into a full-fledged harassment situation.
  • Remember your Netiquette and be nice!
:: Tips for safe mobile chatting

Using a cell phone to send and receive text messages and/or images, is very similar to using e-mail or instant messaging and some of the same safety rules apply. You cell (mobile) phone can be a direct link between you and spammers, scammers, identity thieves, online predators and cyberbullies.

Basic safety tips to protect you and your Cell (Mobile) phone

Protect your privacy

  • Only give your mobile number out to people you know and can trust.
  • Never reply to text messages from people you don’t know.
  • Make sure you know how to block others from calling your phone

Respect others

Think about how a text message might be read, before you send it. Just like e-mail, text messages can be taken the wrong way. Think about the message you are sending and use emoticons to convey the meaning of your text, like lol (laughing out loud) and. Sending someone a text that could be taken the wrong way might upset them.

You should never give anyone else's number out without asking them if it is OK first because you never know what they are going to use it for once they have it. If the person asking is genuine, they will not mind you saying "No" until you have checked it is OK.

You should never take pictures of anyone, with your phone, without their permission. Some people simply do not like having their photograph taken and it is a question of manners to ask permission first. Additionally, once you have an image on your phone you can distribute it and/or upload it to the Internet. Once you do that, it is anybody's guess where that image might end up!

Use your common sense

Be careful if you meet someone in real life who you only "know" through text messaging. Even though text messaging is often the "next step" after online chatting, that does not mean that it is safer. You still do not really know who you are talking to/texting with and they might not be telling you the truth about themselves. With any face to face meeting, you should tell someone where you are going, take someone with you and arrange to meet in daylight in a public place (like the mall).

Don't be a target. Wandering around with your phone in plain view can be dangerous. if you are not using it, put it in your pocket or your bag, out of sight and only use it in public when absolutely necessary. Cell phone theft is a common crime and often, the thieves will attack and injure the owner of a phone.

The basic safety tips and rules apply for most online chat environments. Common sense and caution should always prevail but, there are some slight differences to the way chat rooms and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) operate.

:: Chat room safety

Basic safety tips for online chat rooms
  • Anything you type in a chat room can be seen by everyone who is using that chat room so be careful what you type. In cyberspace the walls don't so much have ears as eyes.
  • Choose an non identifiable, non gender specific screen name (and keep it clean!)
  • Never give out any personal information whilst chatting online . That means your real name, telephone or cell phone number[s], mailing address, passwords, banking details etc. Ignore requests for personal information like A/S/L and be vague with responses to questions like WITW.
  • Never accept files or downloads from people you don't know or from people you do know, if you weren‘t expecting them. This includes URLs.
  • Never arrange to meet someone offline that you only know through chat room conversations.
  • Make sure you know how to save copies of your chat room conversations.
  • Make sure you now how to report problems to the chat room moderator.
  • Remember your Netiquette and be nice! Don’t send mean chat messages, get involved in chat room arguments (flaming) or incite others to do so.

:: Instant messaging safety

Using instant messaging (IM) to send and receive messages and/or files and images, is very similar to using e-mail or SMS messaging and some of the same safety rules apply. Your instant messaging program can be a direct link between you and spammers, scammers, identity thieves, online predators and cyberbullies. On this page you will find some basic tips on instant messaging safety:
Basic safety tips for instant messaging
  • Choose an non identifiable, non gender specific screen name (and keep it clean!)
  • Never give out any personal information whilst using IM. That means your real name, telephone or cell phone number[s], mailing address, passwords, banking details etc.
  • Never accept files or downloads from people you don't know or from people you do know, if you weren‘t expecting them. This includes URLs.
  • Never arrange to meet someone offline that you only know through IM conversations.
  • Make sure you know how to save copies of your IM conversations.
  • Remember your Netiquette and be nice! Don’t send mean IM messages or incite others to do so.

Shared computers

  • If you use a shared or public computer (at home, work or school/college, for instance) do not use the automatic login that comes as standard with most instant message programs.
  • If you use a computer at work, your company may have the right to view your conversations so don’t use your work computer for private IM conversations.

Hello? Is there anybody in there?

  • Most IM clients allow you to control if people on your contact list can see if you're online. That means you can set your IM client so that when you log on, nobody can see you - giving you time to check out which of your contacts are online and, if there are any “mysterious” contacts you don’t recognize.
  • IM screen names, like e-mail addresses, should be kept private. If you post your e-mail address online, you are making yourself a target for unsolicited e-mail and if you post your IM screen name then you are making yourself a target for unsolicited IM messages. Remember, with many IM clients, your screen name can be used to identify your e-mail address.
  • You should only communicate with contacts you recognize, if someone you do not know sends you a request to add them to your contacts, decline it and block them until you are sure you know who that person is. Likewise, if you plan to ask someone if you can be added to their contact list, make sure they know you are going to do that by e-mailing them and/or asking them first.

These are not the only safety issues related to using Instant Messaging clients. In addition to privacy, it should also be noted that Instant Messages are transmitted as clear text, using insecure protocols and that these messages use nonstandard TCP ports, so will not necessarily be filtered by firewalls. Depending on your antivirus software, IM attachments may not be scanned for viruses.

It is important to remember that, in order for your Instant Messaging client to be secure, your computer must also be secure. It is vital that you run up-to-date antivirus software and that you regularly apply security patches to your computer. You should also install either a software or hardware (or both) firewall to add extra protection for you computer.

:: Online Discussion Safety

The biggest risk with online discussions is that you might inadvertently place yourself in danger by revealing too much personal information about yourself online. Unlike chat, which takes place in ‘real time,’ online discussion postings are archived and remain online (unless they are removed by the discussion’s moderator, for example) and can be read by anyone, if the discussion group is a public one and by any of the members, if the community is a private one.
Basic online discussion safety tips

You should always follow the basic rules for online safety and Netiquette (online etiquette). It can be very difficult to get a post removed from a Newsgroup or Forum so be careful what you write.

There are several different types of electronic message centres. Each type operates slightly differently but they are all areas where you can post messages for others to read and/or respond to:

  • Newsgroups are interactive discussions about a specific topic.
  • Forums are interactive ‘message boards’ that are usually community based and their topics generally relate to that online community. Communities often have more than one forum and forums can have more than one topic. ‘Forum’ is a generic name for Bulletin Boards, Discussion Boards, Message Boards, and Notice Boards etc. and can also include e-mail-based discussion groups.

Used wisely, online discussions can be great fun as well as interesting and educational. Each type of online discussion has particular features and for your own safety, you should consider them carefully before you use them:

Nickname [ID, User ID, Handle, Nick etc.]

This is the name you use to identify yourself to other discussion members. Like your e-mail address, it should be inoffensive, non-identifiable and non-gender specific. Posting under the name, “SexySueSmith17” is just asking for trouble. Try to use a non-provocative Nickname like “BlueBear.”


Some online discussion areas allow you to include a profile, a little extra information about yourself. The best way to stay out of trouble is not to fill out a profile at all but if you do decide to include one, be careful what you put there. Adding your age, sex, hometown, school or place of work for example, could place you in danger.


These are small images/icons included on some Forums whenever you post, to represent you. Note: REPRESENT! Never use your actual photograph (or anyone else’s) for your Avatar, don’t use a vulgar image and don’t take images from anywhere online that you do not have permission to use because that could be a breach of someone else’s copyright.


Many online discussion participants use a custom signature. These signatures can include images and links and if you are going to use one, the same rules as the ones for Avatars, Nicknames and e-mail addresses apply. It is simply unwise to click on a link provided by a signature file, it could lead to an unsuitable Web site or a Web page designed to activate a virus script.

Image Uploads (Photo’ Galleries)

Many Forums have areas where users can upload images. Placing images of yourself or your friends and family members online is unwise. Aside from the potential for someone to place a face to a name, there is the possibility that the images could be used unscrupulously. This could range from an image being unflatteringly altered, as a cruel joke (common with online bullies), morphed with another image to misrepresent or mislead or even used to create pornography (including child pornography).


Whatever subject you are interested in or want to find out more about, you can bet there is a discussion about it somewhere online. However, you should always be aware that there are online discussions that contain illegal, disturbing, potentially dangerous, sexually explicit or obscene material.

Whilst there is nothing to prevent anyone from posting anything under the mantle of free speech (and remembering that what one individual might find distressing another may find fascinating), illegal content such as child pornography or pirated software should be reported immediately.

E-mail Addresses

Never use your primary e-mail address for online discussions. As soon as you publicize any e-mail address online spammers will target you. Create an anonymous e-mail address for all online communications of this type. They are easy to acquire and set up and there are many free Web mail providers with good spam filters, such as Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com), Lycos (www.lycos.com) and Hotmail (www.hotmail.com). Never include any personally identifiable information in your e-mail and/or newsgroup settings.

Hacking Risks

If you are connected to the Internet, you are vulnerable to hacking, especially is you have an ‘always on’ connection to the Internet. A good firewall is an essential piece of software to detect and block hacking attempts.

Viruses and Trojans

You are at risk from viruses and trojans when you use Newsgroups or Forums. Downloading messages and/or files, or following links posted to Newsgroups or Forums can result in your computer being infected with a virus or trojan. Always have your anti-virus software running and keep it updated. If you must download a file, place it in a directory you keep exclusively for downloaded files and run your anti-virus checker on that file after it is downloaded. Only open or run it if you are satisfied that it is safe. Never open or run a file (even images) from your newsreader or browser.

Once you are sure that you have your personal safety covered, you will need to consider the practices of posting to Newsgroups and Forums to make sure that you stay safe and adhere to good Netiquette.

First of all, you should read and familiarize yourself with the rules and read any FAQ‘s that are available. Different discussion areas have different rules and it is a matter of courtesy to follow them.


This is when you read messages posted to Newsgroups or Forums without participating yourself. It’s actually a good idea to ‘lurk’ when you first join an online discussion so that you can get a feel for how its users interact. Some users do intimate that lurking might be considered a little creepy, but this is usually done in good humour and there have been lurkers as long as there have been online discussions.

Expressing Yourself

Remember that the Internet is global and most Forums and/or Newsgroups will have a global audience. Before you make a post to a Newsgroup or Forum, read it carefully and check that the information you are sending is clear, correct and polite. Be prepared that there are some users who might not understand some of your phrasings or references and be patient with them if you need to explain something. For example, because it is very easy to misunderstand the meaning of electronic communications, use emoticons to indicate when you are joking.

Don’t take it personally if someone seems to be opposed to your ideas, everyone has a right to their own opinion and debate is healthy. However, there are always some individuals who will post deliberately inflammatory material to goad others into an argument. You will learn to recognize these posters and the best practice (as with many things online) is to ignore them because, without a participatory audience they are powerless.

In general, there are also some practices which are neither advised nor encouraged.


It may amaze you but, not everyone will want to read about your new Spider Plant Sales Web Site (unless you have posted exclusively to houseplant communities). Avoid using Newsgroups and Forums as a vehicle to advertise your latest project unless the information or service you are providing is relevant and useful.


This is what happens when a discussion gets out of hand and one or more of the parties involved uses derogatory, abusive or aggressive tactics. Flaming will usually result in a ban and the best way to deal with a flame attack is to ignore it, report it and let the moderator deal with it. Responding or retaliating to a flamer is a fast track to trouble and can cause all kinds of other problems such as cyberbullying and cyberstalking both within and outside of the discussion.

Long Replies

It is not really necessary to include the original post in your reply. You might take relevant quotations from it or shorten it (if you do this, indicate that you have shortened the piece by including [ … ] or <snipped> where you have cut out portions of the text). Otherwise, threads become so long that they are cumbersome and difficult to read, clogging up the discussion and taking an age to download.

Off-Topic Posting

If you join an online discussion about rock climbing, the other users will invariably be interested in that topic alone and although some deviation from the sport might be usual and some online discussions are more focused than others, posting about your passion for baking chocolate cakes might be deemed inappropriate. Try to stay on topic.

Cross Posting or Multi-Posting

This is when you post the same message to multiple Newsgroups or Forums. There are a few instances where this is acceptable, but not many. For instance, an informative article relevant to more than one associated groups could be cross-posted but an advertisement for your new Web site posted to every newsgroup under the cybersun should not. Basically it is considered to be spamming.

If you are already using online discussions and you are concerned that you have not paid enough attention to your personal safety or posting practices in the past, you can check and amend some details.

Name Searching

You can check to see if your details appear online by running your name through a search engine. The most popular way to do this is to ‘Google’ yourself. Go to http://www.google.com/ and type in your name, in inverted commas, for example: “Sue Smith” and see what is returned. Of course, the results could be any number of people with the same name as you but it is always worth checking.

Post Deletion [Nuking]

Some online discussion areas give you the option to remove posts you made. Failing that, Forum moderators can delete a message you posted and, if it includes personally identifiable information, a conscientious moderator will always comply with your (polite) request. However, they are not obliged to do and some moderators can and will refuse.

The Google Groups Usenet discussion group archive reaches back to 1981. Google do have a tool for post deletion that you can access via their FAQ: http://groups.google.com/googlegroups/posting_faq.html. You can also prevent your posts from being added to the Google Groups archive by modifying the header of your post. Either add 'X-No-Archive: yes' in the header of your post or if you cannot edit headers, make the first line of your post: 'X-No-Archive: yes'

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