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The Beginner's Guide To The Internet
About half of the things you need to know, in very quick succession
The internet is a big, awe-inspiring place. For a lot of people - including me! - it's the first time they really, truly get a chance to meet themselves: the person they are outside of their parents, their teachers, and the other people who tell them who they're supposed to be being. Especially, especially when the person exploring (you?) already knows something inside of them feels different from the people around them; the particular kind of loneliness that comes with experiences like simply being LGBTQIAA...A.....S......+ (I could add a lot more letters, but that would be obnoxious), or having been made to do things against your will, or having a brain and mind that don't do what random passerby expect out of them.
That becomes a problem because there are many, many people who like to make themselves feel powerful by swooping in to take the place of parents/teachers/etc. The more isolated you are, and the fewer or less trustworthy the people already in your life, the easier it is to be manipulated by these 'Hawks'
You deserve to decide what you believe on YOUR OWN TERMS, in YOUR OWN TIME, and respect people you meet on the net ONLY as they deserve to be respected!
(kyoht on dA)
“All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you.
Now, "To guide" means the guide-writer (me, Bennie) is presenting themselves as some sort of authority - what a trap! I'm asking you to put trust in what I say, but then the first thing I go and say is not to trust.
But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks...”
- Richard Adams, Watership Down
The first trick.
The first, and probably most important, trick is to make yourself look less tasty. 'Hawks' are a lot like the myths of the 'Fair Folk' (perhaps more accurately called the unfair folk), in that the more they know about you, the more power they have over you. Things like a Caard or other About Me types grant readers power over you!
- NEVER imply (or state) you are a legal minor. Laws and regulations do not protect you from danger, they arrange retribution after the harm to you is already permanent. I talk more about this in the Second Trick.
- Use a different name. When you make accounts online, names that have, do, or may in the future be used for you should never appear in posts, in information, in private messages, or in any other form of text the website allows you to enter - including as partial names, nicknames, or initials, and encoded forms like "learn your wolf name by looking up the words by your initials!" This also protects you from dangers who know you in the flesh.
It is easier than you think for malevolent entities to track you down.
Information on the internet cannot truely be erased. If an account has been touched by a Body Name, you may not be able to prevent the most dangerous of internet predators from finding you
- Don't give away your physical location. If you live in the US, stick with terms like "East Coast", "West Coast", or your time zone. For most other countries, anything more specific than the country name is too specific. When you've been a specific place that isn't your hometown, don't talk about where it was until you've already left!
- Photos and video are very dangerous. When you use a camera (video or not) or a program that expects to be editing a file from a camera, it embeds a whole range of special information in the file including things like where, when, and what kind of camera or device took the picture, which is called "metadata".
You can easily and quickly scrub the metadata off a photo by enlarging it to 100% and taking a screen capture to use instead. Alternately, for large pictures, copy the image and paste it into a blank document, then save that document. Video is a little harder to deal with: I recommend avoiding uploading content made with video cameras entirely.
Never allow an application like instagram, twitter, tumblr, reddit, tiktok, or any other new thing someone's come up with access to GPS/position data - they have a nasty habit of making this information public when you post! Check your settings menu, or have a responsible person in your life help you do so.
- Trigger listings, naming of mental health conditions, and other notes on trauma history can be used to hurt you. One of the powers of the internet is that it can let you connect to those who have survived what you are enduring. It is always safest to do this from a "remove" - find and read their words, but do not directly seek their guidance. However, there are also cases where these types of lists can be a source of strength: "Here is what life has been for me. Here is what the world wants to hide. Here I am."
If you are not familiar with operating blacklist functions, preventing unsolicited private messages, or other ways of filtering interactions people seek with you, avoiding more than the very most general of statements is best. (I will have something to say on how to use these in trick two. Unfortunately, websites are always changing, so no description will reign eternal.)
When you do make a trait public, discuss it only in places any site user can see. Say nothing that you might later prefer to be private. Respond to attempts to engage about the trait in private messages by stating you are not comfortable with the conversation.
Traits can be used against you in two ways: first, by "private" discussions being made public and used to turn you into a harassment target or simply releasing more detail than you want to be common knowledge, and second, by giving 'Hawks' an avenue to encourage you to trust them faster than you should.
Both these processes are made extremely difficult by restricting this type of discussion to spaces with bystanders, even passive ones.
The second trick.
The second trick is to know when something is hurting you, and then know what to do next.
'Hawks' use the fear and pain of your hurt to make themselves seem trustworthy.
They will promise you that they can make your hurt stop hurting and keep it from happening again: they say you can do this by trusting their advice, and helping them make others aware of and deal justice to the dangerous people in the world.
Many of these Hawks even believe what they are saying. A lot of them are the people who were caught by Hawks before, and have never gotten away.
Ultimately, it is true: Justice is rare, and there are many dangerous people in the world. Sometimes, the best that can be hoped for is to tell others what has happened, and warn them to avoid the person - and it is genuinely hard to tell the difference between "callouts" about real dangers and about invented ones.
Unfortunately, I can't offer much guidance on that right now, other than to say: Everyone always has the right to withdraw consent ("say no") for an interaction, whether that's looking at a picture, reading a story, or talking about something.
If you are young, you are always safest when your online profile could easily be an adult's:
The more someone specifically claims that they are safe for online youth to talk to, the more likely they are a 'Hawk' who targets them.