Your Life Online
What you should know before you send your next text or update your status online.
The picture got out to a few other teens. They sent it to their friends. Soon, kids were yelling "whore" and "slut" as Hope walked down the hallways at school, and also posted cruel comments about her online, according to media reports. Later that year, Witsell killed herself.
"Kids may think it's funny to send a picture of a 14-year-old girl topless that she meant for her boyfriend. But for the girl who took the picture, it can be humiliating and horrible," Wolak says.
Here's something you might not know: The minute you send a sext, you become a child pornographer. "Legally, they are violating child pornography laws. And those laws are very serious," Wolak says.
You're probably not going to get arrested or go to jail for sexting, but the embarrassment alone should be enough to stop you. "Do you really want your girlfriend's mother, the police, or people at your school to see a picture like that?" Wolak asks.
Another way you can get into big trouble is by bullying someone online.
You might have heard about a Massachusetts high school student named Phoebe Prince. Her classmates allegedly bullied her so much on Facebook and through text messages that she killed herself.
What Phoebe experienced is called "cyberbullying." It's when people send mean or cruel messages online.
Cyberbullying takes place in cyberspace, but it doesn't usually start there. "It's offline behavior in a school… or other places that's spilling over into the Internet," Wolak says.
Because cyberbullying has been in the news so much, it might seem like the problem of bullying is getting worse. But Wolak says the number of kids who are being bullied isn't increasing. The Internet is just a new place for bullies to operate.
There are ways to prevent bullying and sexual harassment online.
Safer Surfing: 5 Tips
You don't have to stop going online or texting -- just be safer when you do it. The following tips are common sense. You probably know and practice most of these already.
1. Protect your privacy. Change the settings on your social media pages to make your profile private. Only let people you know see your profile -- like friends, family, and people at your school. Ask a parent or other adult to help you if you can't figure out how to use the privacy settings. If someone you've friended is harassing you, block him or her.
2. Watch what you write. It's fine to share information online. Just be careful about releasing any details that someone could use to find you. "Stuff like home address and phone number should be released with caution," Toma says. The same goes for the name of your school, your friends, or your parents. Use a fake screen name when you're on discussion boards and blogs.