Archive for the ‘social networking’ Category

10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Snapping and Posting that Photo

July 18th, 2017

Let’s face it. Photos do the talking for most of us today. Everyone is snapping, chatting, posting, and engrossed in choosing the perfect photo filter. But what if, while steeped in capturing our lives in images, we were being rude, insensitive, or even breaking the law?

With so many posts, there’s bound to be some unhappy people. For instance, Miami Heat owner Ranaan Katz sued Google over a photo posted of him, and Beyonce’s publicist demanded Getty Images remove those famously unflattering Superbowl performance photos. In fact, in some states, posting “distressing” or embarrassing images of others without a “legitimate purpose,” is punishable by law.

Most people care about putting their best photos forward online. A 2014 study released by The Renfrew Center Foundation reveals that most people edit their pictures before putting them on social media in an attempt to present their  ‘best selves’ over their ‘real selves.’ So it stands to reason that perhaps in all our posting, we’re not always landing on the right side of polite.

While a lawsuit likely isn’t in your future, there are some written and unwritten rules to posting that will help keep you and your family out of hot water in digital social circles. Some of these rules here are the law, others, well just plain polite.

10 Questions to Ask Before Snapping that Photo

  1. Does this facility allow A) personal photography B) use of a selfie stick?  Be sure to look for a sign or posting regarding selfie sticks, photo opportunities, image copyrights, and safety tips when taking photos in high-traffic areas such as national parks, museums, sporting events, academic events.
  2. Am I creating a danger to myself or someone else by taking a photo here? Questionable locations might include zoos, theme parks, boats, crowded public areas such as malls, subways, streets, airports, or while driving a car. (Unfortunately, people die each year unnecessarily while taking risky photos.)
  3. Am I blocking someone’s view or impeding traffic flow by stopping to take this picture? We’ve all been there be it a theme park, concert, public event, ceremony, or celebration. We wait. And wait. Until they get the shot. And, sometimes it not only inconveniences others, but it can also cause an accident if getting the perfect photo trumps safety.
  4. Do I run the risk of offending someone’s religious views by taking a photo here? Often, cathedrals, religious landmarks, sacred burial spaces, and religious communities such as the Amish, forbid or frown on photos.
  5. Even though I can’t see a threat, is there a potential danger in taking a photo here? Think about snapping a photo in potential danger zones such as zoos, national parks, severe weather conditions, ships, subway, or moving bus.
  6. Did I get the permission to post from the people in my photo? How many times have you taken for granted that your friend or family member wants his or her photo posted? It never hurts — and may even save a relationship — to ask before posting.
  7. Is it in poor taste to take a photo here? Some states forbid taking and posting distressing photos or photos in bad taste such as an accident scene, a funeral, or individuals caught in compromising situations.
  8. Is this photo embarrassing to another person in any way? At one time posting unflattering photos of shoppers in Wal-Mart helped fuel the internet’s hunger for memes. At the end of the day, it’s all cyberbullying. Think before posting photos of parties, people in public restrooms, beaches, and in ways that make them look ridiculous. Unfortunately, recent reports of kids sabotaging and rating our their peers with inappropriate photos are becoming a thing.
  9. Is this photo of me too intimate? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Consider your clothing, facial expression, inference, and caption before posting a provocative photo.
  10. Am I overdoing it on the photos? How many are too many selfies to post in a week? If you are uncertain about your posting habits, ask a good friend to be honest with you.




Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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7 Strategies to Help Kids Sidestep Digital Friction this Summer

July 4th, 2017

What happens when you mix long summer days with a steady flow of SnapChats, tweets, Instagram feeds, and a non-stop hum of group texts streaming into your life?

If you’re an adult, you’ve likely learned how to power off and unplug for a few hours or days when you’ve hit digital overload. If you are a tween or teen, however, those sensors alerting you to trouble have yet to develop fully. So you keep scrolling, texting, posting, reading sometimes mindlessly. It may be a slow, subtle, creep but if you spend more than a few hours a day on your phone, you may experience anxiety, body image issues, sleeplessness, and even some depression, according to several studies (and, let’s be honest, good old common sense).

The summer months can amplify the social highs (friendship, affirmation, memories) and the emotional lows of digital connection (anxiety, cyberbullying, depression).

While the social connection we find in through our digital devices is not inherently dangerous, it can and does go awry if mismanaged. The constant connection can and does go south occasionally and, at times, with significant fallout. Think about it: When you get half a dozen teen girls (or guys) filling a single pipeline of chatter the lack of context, verbal inflection, accountability, and body language can instantly send an innocent chat into a 10-phone collision.

Here are some basic communication tactics with a bit of conflict management thrown to help your tweens and teens dodge the digital fallout this summer.

7 Tips to Help Kids Minimize Digital Friction this Summer

  1. Schedule Time Off. Sometimes the temptation to go to your phone for mental stimulation is just too much. So, just as you’d schedule time off from work or any other stressful situation, encourage kids to schedule time off from their peers and phones each day. Unplugging and learning to enjoy time alone grows the mind, body, and spirit.
  2. Stop scrolling, start going! Why scroll through pictures of beautiful places, fun outings, and exciting trips when you can insert yourself into them? Sounds simple but it’s easy to forget that kids just don’t know what they don’t know. Plan a family day of no phones. Fill it with hiking, beach time, kayaking, or even planning a family trip to another county, state, or continent. Want to keep the experience low-cost? That’s easier than you think. Try some of these apps to discover hiking trails nearby, camps, and fun things to do for little or not cost. Simply widening a child’s peripheral vision is enough to get them thinking bigger and reaching for their phone less. Know where to go, with this list of ways to help kids get outside this summer.
  3. Coach them to cope. If an online conflict does arise, a few simple strategies, well placed, can save the day. But, sometimes kids need coaching. 1) If an online conversation becomes argumentative or uncomfortable, teach your kids how to change the topic. Ask whose going to the baseball game or about a hot shopping spot. It’s an old trick, but it works! 2) Encourage your child to clarify a troubling statement immediately with phrases such as “when you said xx . . . I heard xx . . . is that what you meant?” or “I’m not sure if you are serious or joking right now.”
  4. Share with caution. Remember the screenshot. Remind your child that a group text (and anything shared online) can be captured and shared outside of that group. Be aware that a digital conversation is never “secret” or “private,” as with the recent Harvard University texting scandal. Nothing is private online — even those seemingly safe conversations.
  5. Be real. Be kind. Remind your kids to never say anything in a group text or a public post that they would feel uncomfortable (or afraid) saying to that person or the group face-to-face. Because of its remote nature, online chats and texts (in particular with an audience looking on) can spark overconfidence or arrogance and lead to overly brash exchanges. If something hurtful is said, teach your child to take a break and step away before responding.
  6. Emote with emojis. Those little graphic faces may very well be the best mediator your child has. Emoticons can express instant laughter, joking and help bridge at least a few of the physical deficits of online communication.
  7. Fix it face-to-face. This last point will require an extra dose of maturity for a tween or teen. Teach your child how to use an online fallout to actually improve their friendships. If a misunderstanding does occur, encourage your child to put his or her phone down and meet with the friend/s face-to-face to work it out. Usually, all involved will agree, that intent was misinterpreted. Teach your child to use “I” statements such as “I feel hurt by some of the stuff you said. I want to talk about it face-to-face in a way we can both feel heard and understood.”

Communicating online is tough for both adults and kids. While our tweens and teens do not need us to rescue them from every online conflict, don’t hesitate, to offer wisdom and guidance as they rise, fall, and mature in the online world.



Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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Why Kids Use Secret Decoy Apps and Why Parents Should Care

May 30th, 2017

Decoy AppsKids have been locking their diaries and hiding top secret shoe long before even Sandy Olssen had a crush on Danny Zuko. The need for more and more privacy as they mature is a natural part of growing up. Today, however, some kids hide their private lives behind locked decoy apps catapulting those harmless secret crushes to a whole new level.

A decoy app is what it sounds like; it’s a mobile app designed for the purpose of hiding something. Decoy apps are also called vault, secret, and ghost apps and make it tough for parents to know whether or not their kids are taking and sharing risky photos with peers since the apps are disguised as an everyday app.

A decoy app may look like a calculator, a game, or even a utilities icon, but it’s actually a place to tuck away content a phone user doesn’t want anyone to find. Kids use decoy apps to store screenshots of racy conversations, nude photos, pornographic videos, and party photos that are simply too risky to keep in a regular photo folder that mom or dad may find. One case in Pennsylvania documents vault apps at the center of sexting and cyberbullying case in a middle school.

Adults and Decoy AppsDecoy Apps

Many adults are also well acquainted with decoy apps. It’s no surprise adults use these stealth apps to store private business activity, passwords to secret accounts, inappropriate photos, and content related to extramarital affairs. Apps such as Vaulty Stocks looks like a Wall Street stock market tracker, but in reality, it’s an app designed to keep private photos and videos hidden from nosey spouses.

How to Spot a Decoy App

If you want to get an idea of how many of these kinds of decoy apps exist go to your iOS or Android store app and search secret apps or decoy apps and you will get your fill of the many icons that are in place to hide someone’s private digital life.

Once you know to look for these apps designed to look like a calculator, a safe, a game, a note or even a shopping list app, you are well on your way.

A decoy app can’t be opened without a code or password specified by the original user. Some of these decoy apps such as Keep Safe Private Photo Vault actually have two layers of security (two passwords) designed to throw off a parent who can open the first level and find harmless content. According to the app description on the Google Play store, “Keepsafe secures personal photos and videos by locking them down with PIN protection, fingerprint authentication, and military-grade encryption. It’s the best place for hiding personal pictures and videos.” Further privacy is detailed with the promise of a face-down auto lock feature, “In a tight situation? Have Keepsafe lock itself when your device faces downward.” Another app, The Secret Calculator, description states: “Don’t worry about the icon. It will become a standard calculator icon. No one will ever notice.”Decoy Apps

Other features highlighted in the Keepsafe app description include:

  • Break-In Alerts: Takes photos of intruders and tracks break-in attempts
  • Secret Door: Disguises your Keepsafe as another app
  • Fake Pin: Creates a decoy Keepsafe with a separate PIN code

How to Discourage Decoy Apps

Connection first. Communication and a strong relationship with your child are the most cyber savvy tools you have to keep your child from making unwise choices online. So, take time each day to connect with your child. Understand what makes them tick, how they use technology, and what’s going on in their lives and hearts.

Monitoring. Weekly phone monitoring and using parental controls is always a good idea depending on the age of your child, your trust level, and the expectations that exist within your family. Know what apps your kids download.

Ask to Buy. Both Apple and Android have parental app purchase approval options on their websites you can set up to examine an app before it’s downloaded.Decoy Apps

Get real. Talk candidly about the risks of sending, sharing, and even archiving risky photos on digital devices. Under the law, child pornography is considered to be any nude photograph or video of someone under the age of 18. It usually does not matter if the person possessing or distributing it is under the age of 18. Any offender can face fines and time behind bars. New laws that address juveniles caught possessing or distributing explicit photos are emerging every day and vary state by state.

Reality check. Nothing is private. Kids can share content directly from a decoy app, which means that their passcode is useless. Shared content is out of your hands forever. Sharing risky photos is never, ever a good idea.

It’s worth stressing to your kids that it’s not just about the technology you use, but how you use it that can create issues. None of the decoy apps we mentioned in this post are inherently “dangerous” apps, it’s the way the apps are used that make them unsafe for kids. The same mantra applies to social networks. And remember — give yourself grace as a parent. You can’t police your child’s online activity 24/7. It’s impossible. What you can do is educate yourself and know what these mobile apps do so you can address precarious situations that may come up.


Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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6 Ways to Help Kids Steer Clear of Cyberbullies During Summer Break

May 2nd, 2017

summer cyberbullyingWouldn’t it be nice if kids could leave the veiled threats and cutting words behind when the bell rings for summer break? Unfortunately, bullies rarely take a break from intimidating others over the summer and may even step up their game.

To date, nothing has humbled me quite like this parenting gig. Once upon a time I used to say things like “my child would tell me right away if he was  bullied,” “my kids know how to handle themselves,” and “this kind of stuff happens to other people — you know, clueless people.”

Then my kid got bullied. Big time. The shame and embarrassment stopped him from telling me. It escalated from Facebook to text, to phone calls, to in-person threats. The police got involved. The bullying caused deep emotional wounds that still surface as my child moves into adulthood. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost more sleep over my kids’ spoken and unspoken fears and heartbreak than anything else in life. Through the process, I’ve learned when to step in, and when to let my kids fend for themselves. I’ve learned how deeply words can cut and how fear manifests and expresses itself in a child’s life. Bullying is not to be dismissed, especially as summer approaches and with it, our kids’ screen time.

Over the summer months, our observations skills need to be sharp, and our listening, cued in. Summer means cookouts, poolside, and stargazing. But, for some kids, summer also means more bullying, exclusion from parties or outings, feelings of isolation, and even amplified conflict.

According to a 2014 McAfee survey, Teens and the Screen, 87%
of teens surveyed citing they witnessed cyberbullying this year versus 27% in 2013. The reasons kids are being bullied online — 72% stated it was over appearance, 26% answered bullying was due to race or religion, and 22% stated their sexuality prompted the bullying.

If your child has ever been bullied and feared for his or her safety, then the NBC news story of teens sneaking thousands of guns into school for protection against bullies, sadly, isn’t unimaginable.

As parents, our role is to keep our eyes and ears open this summer. Speak up if you sense trouble. Don’t hold back. Go with your gut. Get nosey. You are a parent for a tiny window of time so being nosy — and repeating things your kids claim they “already know” — is part of your job. Your consistency and attention could mean the difference between a great summer and an emotionally, even physically dangerous one.

Things NOT to do:

  • Never tell a child to ignore the bullying. Social media has changed the impact and consequences of bullying and in turn, how we need to respond to it.
  • Choose your words carefully. Never blame a child for being bullied. Even if he or she made poor decisions or aggravated the bullying, no one ever deserves to be bullied.
  • As angry as you may be that someone is emotionally hurting or physically threatening your child, do not encourage your child to physically fight back. Aggression could backfire and get your child hurt or even arrested.

3 Ways to Avoid Bullying Online

  1. Make profiles and photos private. By refusing to use privacy settings (and some kids do refuse), a child’s profile is open to anyone and everyone, which increases the chances of being bullied or personal photos being downloaded and manipulated. We often recommend on this blog that parents require kids under 18 to make all social profiles private without exception. This limits online circles to known friends and reduces the possibility of cyberbullying.
  2. Avoid risky apps. Apps like that allow outsiders to ask a user any question anonymously should be off limits to kids. Kik Messenger and Yik Yak are also risky apps. Users have a degree of anonymity with these kinds of apps because they have usernames instead of real names and they can easily connect with profiles that could be (and often are) fake. Officials have linked all of these apps to multiple cyberbullying and even suicide cases.
  3. Don’t ask peers for a “rank” or a “like.” Believe it or not, the online culture for teens is such that often kids will be straightforward in asking people to “like” or “rank” a photo of them and attach the hashtag #TBH (to be honest) in hopes of getting an affirmation fix. Talk to your kids about the risk in doing this and the negative comments that may follow. Affirm them and remind them often of how much they mean to you and the people who truly know them and love them.

3 Things to Do if Bullied Online

  1. Tell someone. Encourage your child to talk to a trusted adult if he or she experiences any bullying. Many teens keep quiet when being bullied which communicates to a bully that he or she is fair game for harassment. Encourage your child to come to you at the summer cyberbullyingfirst sign of bullying or conflict online. Monitor his or her online circles and observe the tone of his or her online conversations. Being the target of a cyberbully creates fear, humiliation, and often leads to isolation, so your child will rarely be the first to speak up about it. Until they have the skills, parents need to monitor and coach kids online. Start early and be consistent. Also, do your best to steer clear of the lecture mode. Being a trusted advisor will help your child gain his or her communication chops sooner than later.
  2. Save the evidence. Print copies of messages, texts, photos used to threaten and intimidate. Use the save feature on instant messages and take screen shots of posts or comments on social networks.
  3. Report serious incidents to police. Report the cyberbully to the social network in the Help section. Report the cyberbullying to the police or cyber crime unit in your area if the cyberbullying contains threats, intimidation, or sexual extortion of any kind. Know your rights and get the critical resources you need at



Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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Wired and Tired: 6 Simple Ways to Restore the Things Technology Zaps

April 25th, 2017

wired and tiredI pictured myself at this stage of parenting sitting in a dark forest Yoda-like as younger mothers looked to me for wisdom. But even though my kids are now 16 and 22, it’s confusion, not clarity that invades my decision making. And that whole Yoda thing? Yeah — never gonna happen.

Raising kids of any age today requires parents to navigate a million moving parts. The latest information needed to make the best decisions comes with an appendage of gray areas attached. When my kids were younger, one study heralded video games as improving math skills and hand-eye coordination in kids. So, we smiled on our future surgeons as they mastered Crash Bandicoot and Mario Brothers for hours a day. Now, more studies than not, claim too much screen time can lead to moodiness, depression, and zap motivation and social skills — or does it?

As Yoda would say, “Live in areas of gray, we do.”

Google, Gather, Repeat.

So before moving forward on most parenting fronts, we Google, gather, and repeat. Such is the case with issues like teenage depression. We try to understand: Is our child suffering from legitimate depression or do we just need to turn off the smartphone for a few days? Is this the blues or something more? Too often we can be quick to prescribe medications today when the issue may be less mental and more environmental.

According to 2015 stats from the Department of Health and Human Services, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. More than 2 million reported experiencing depression that impairs daily function. About 30 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys.

So before opting for the meds to balance out our kids, much of the mood mystery today could be curbed by getting back to the basics and the things we know instinctively to do as parents. I’ve watched small changes in my own home, make a big difference.

Small Changes, Big Impact.

  1. Less tech = health. Some doctors say treating kids with mood issues includes methodically reducing and even eliminating electronics use, which allows the nervous system to reset. By reducing technology use, kids can experience deeper sleep, better moods, wired and tiredincreased focus, better organization, and have more energy for physical activity.
  2. Face-to-face = security. When social media surfing, texting, emailing, and gaming becomes the communication norm, kids suffer. While watching television is a passive activity, using electronics engages us with others consistently and without boundaries causing still-developing brains to be hyperaroused and overwork, which impacts sleep and self-control. According to Canadian Psychologist Susan Pinker in her book The Village Effect, throughout history, we need close social bonds and face-time with others to thrive—and even to survive. Creating our “village effect” makes us happier, says Pinker, and can even save our lives as we grow more and more immersed in a digital world.
  3. Green time = hope. Because screen time can physically deplete our senses, green time — time spent outdoors — can be a primitive, but powerful way to reduce anxiety, anger, and moodiness. A hefty dose of Vitamin D from sunlight and moving your eyes from a boxed-in screen to a boundless sky is one of mother nature’s most potent anti-depressants.wired and tired
  4. Balance = success. Few situations improve when subjected to an everything-or-nothing remedy — especially technology limits. Rather than requiring your kids (or yourself) to endure a full-on gadget fast, opt instead, for balance. Even a tech-exchange strategy may impact your family. Exchange a half-day of tech use for a half-day hike, an hour of video games for an hour of reading, two hours of social media scrolling for two hours helping with outdoor chores. Balance wins every time, especially with summer fast approaching.
  5. Red flags = trouble. Don’t ignore the red flags because they rarely disappear on their own. A few red flags include a child who chooses their phone over going out with friends, studying, physical activity, and family time. Also, if your child puts up a fight when asked to turn off, or turn over, his or her tech, it’s time to make some serious changes. Everyone learns to self-medicate depression with different things — be it alcohol, drugs, tv, or food — many kids have learned to self-medicate with technology.
  6. Counseling = healing. The small changes we’ve discussed don’t apply when a teen’s depression goes beyond the blues. If your child’s moods or hopelessness has you worried, talk to a school counselor, therapist or doctor. It’s better to get help earlier than later. For more information on teen depression, visit the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Resource Center.




Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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Could Your Kids Be Ordering Dangerous Drugs Online?

November 15th, 2016

According to recent news reports, authorities have linked a drug named Pink to the overdose deaths of two 13-year-old boys in Park City, Utah. Also known as U-47700, Pink is a new synthetic, opioid drug easily purchased online. In this case, the teens, who were best friends, ordered the drug from China. According to multiple news sources, the drug Pink is said to be eight times more potent than heroin and can cause cardiac arrest simply by coming into contact with it. It’s been repeatedly involved in an increasing number of overdoses nationwide, according to doctors.

It doesn’t get more heartbreaking than this story. It’s both unimaginable and terrifying because frankly, this tragedy could have happened to any one of our kids. All that’s needed is a robust sense of curiosity, a credit card, and access to the internet.drugs online

More heartbreaking is that the teens had been talking about the drug on social media. I’ve personally had a handful of very critics challenge me on the ethics of monitoring teens online. They call it snooping, they call it an invasion of privacy and argue it breaks trust with a child. I agree with all of those claims — if the child is over 18. But, when it comes to minors, all bets are off, and my monitoring is on. Could monitoring have prevented this situation? Probably not. We all know when it comes to kids, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And, determined kids can find workarounds to just about any parental strategy. That doesn’t mean we give up trying.

But how do I monitor so many platforms?  You ask. You aren’t alone in feeling overwhelmed, so just tackle the task one day at a time. Stay consistent, and you can cover more ground than you think. Personally, I check my daughter’s Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and phone apps about twice a week. I bring up language or content that is concerning and offer her some options. In the course of doing this consistently for several years, she rarely missteps with her content.

10 Things You Can Do:

  1. Check browser history. If you see something suspicious in your child’s browser history, folllow the trail.
  2. Device monitoring. According to law enforcement, it’s wise to look at your child’s smartphones periodically to see what they are looking at online and who they are connecting with. If you see any term you don’t recognize or seems like a code word, go deeper. Google the word to figure out what it means. We’ve posted several Internet Slang updates over the past year that may help.
  3. Check all packages. Take the time to check packages shipped to your home — it’s not always Amazon!drugs online
  4. Pay attention to behavior. We can check phones, packages, and browser history all year long but more important is paying close attention to your child’s behavior. A few warning signs: A drop in grades, anger outbursts, change in appearance.
  5. Be bold. It matters. For some reason, parents can be afraid to confront their children about online activity, or suspected drug use. However, this fear can prove deadly in today’s digital world where access is far easier for kids. One visit to one of these accessible drug sites and you will quickly lose your fear.
  6. Censure friends. Go with your gut. If that new group of friends is causing you concern, address it. Yes, you risk looking judgmental, appearing paranoid, and even overly dramatic. But parenting is not a popularity contest. Listen to your instincts. You know which friends are a positive influence, and which ones need a closer look.
  7. Talk, talk, talk to your kids. Talking sounds basic but make no assumptions. Explain what’s wrong with buying medications illegally online and do it in terms your child can relate to. Remember: Tweens and teens experimenting with drugs are not thinking about the dangers of mixing substances or the fact that overseas wholesalers are luring customers with new hybrid drugs that can be very deadly. Make sure you state the consequences you will enforce if they ever purchase drugs online.
  8. Install filtering software. Most programs allow you to create a list of URLs and keywords to block and will produce reports on Internet use.
  9. Bank statements. If you child is old enough to have a debit or credit card, and you have drug suspicions, monitor online statements for irregular spending.
  10. Next steps. What if you find your worst fears to be true? Get help. Project Know is a perfect place to begin and has resource networks available in every state.

When your kids head to school each morning, you aren’t thinking about them purchasing drugs, nor should you. However, knowing what is going on in the digital world and the threats to kids, only empowers you as a parent. So, keep learning, keep your eyes open, and keep communication flowing with your children.



Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family and @ToniBirdsong. (Disclosures).

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Teaching Kids to Rise Above the Twitter Trolls

November 1st, 2016

The social media platform Twitter has been making the headlines every day lately and not for good reasons. The popular 140-character driven network is under fire for its increasingly troll-heavy content and its failure to regulate abusive tweeters. From celebrities shutting down accounts to politicians and special interest groups daily (and very publically) engaged in tweet-to-tweet combat, Twitter is a hotbed for conflict – so much so, it affected several potential business acquisitions.

A troll is just what it sounds like — a person (or group of people) who intentionally sows discord and conflict online.

If your kids are on Twitter, they know very well that one perfectly timed hashtag or celebrity tweet can spark a wildfire of online hate if the trolls grab it and run. While your kids likely aren’t part of the hate, no doubt, they can feel the hate and even be influenced by it. A 2015 report claimed 88% of the digital abuse happens on Twitter. The reason for this? Unlike Facebook and Instagram, Twitter still allows anonymous account names and profile information — which is the #1 magnet for haters, hate groups, and cyber bullies.

The issues are real, and the people behind them are real. Here are just a few headlines putting Twitter’s hotbed of hate in the spotlight.

Anti-Semitic Trolls Threaten to Take Twitter Down with Them

Conservative Writer Tells How White Supremacists Have Tormented His Family

Actress Leslie Jones Targeted by Racists on Twitter

In August, Twitter released an updated guide on how to deal with trolls and “control” your experience on the platform, that includes curating notification options. However, some argue the improvements do little to solve the harassment issues. So the best defense is a good offense and educating your kids on how to navigate past the hate.

8 Tips for Rising Above the Twitter Trolls:Twitter Trolls

  1. Never respond. A hater’s full-time job is to draw you into a never-ending, circular conversation of hate that puts you through an emotional shredder. There’s no winning an argument with a person blinded by hate.
  2. Don’t stoop. As tempting as the hashtag may be, don’t join in the hashtag fun if hate or bullying is behind it. Often, people exist behind those hateful hashtags that masquerade as funny. To slam a TV show, a reality star, a football coach, or a politician is still cyber bullying.
  3. Consider the source. If you understand the hater mentality, you can move on relatively quickly without taking too much offense or investing too much emotion. Haters are gonna hate. That’s why they have anonymous accounts; that’s why their entire Twitter feed is negative, threatening, offensive, even violent. So block them and move on.
  4. Teach tolerance. The U.S. is a rich blend of cultures from all over the world, so raising digital kids who understand that is preparing them to rise above the haters. Encouraging an attitude of openness and respect for the differences that exist among people will help kids understand, appreciate, and connect successfully with others online.
  5. Understand Twitter yourself. If you are setting out to coach your kids, make sure you know the Twittersphere yourself. For many teens, Twitter has become a group texting channel. Get to know the lingo. Words like Hashtags, blocks, ReTweets, @ symbols, DMs are simple terms you may want to know. Here’s a quick Twitter lingo guide.Twitter Trolls
  6. You are what you tweet. Remind your kids they are not alone on Twitter but on a stage where an audience of people can see their tweets. They can’t take a tweet back even if they delete it and be assured it’s gone. Teach them to be mindful of photos they post, and links they recommend. This is an excellent opportunity to talk about values, gossip, cyber bullying, critical thinking, drama, and smart communication. Repeat to them often: “Think before you tweet.” Put consequences in place before your kids abuse their Twitter privilege. Talk to them about Twitter cases in the news and the many ways their words can come back to haunt them.
  7. Manage conflict. Twitter’s fast pace can be a landmine where little tweets can ignite into big offenses. Teach your kids to respond well and steer conversations upward. Teach them how first to ignore, then to block. Also, teach them to define gossip and not to re-tweet false information.
  8. Ignore. Block. Report. Every Twitter conflict or cyber bullying will look different and have a different set of circumstances. Ignoring the person and not engaging is often the best option to extinguish a conflict. Step two is to block the abusive user and report the account to Twitter Help. Along with reporting, make sure you have screenshots of the conversation as well as a screen shot of the abusive account and profile information. Or, follow the genius example of this woman who shut down her haters by quoting encouraging dialogue from the movie Good Will Hunting.




Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family and @ToniBirdsong. (Disclosures).

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Teaching Kids to Secure Their Data & Hearts Online

October 28th, 2016


Valentine’s week is filled with flowers, chocolate . . . and that wonderfully dangerous little thing called oxytocin. Referred to as the “trust hormone,” oxytocin is one of several chemicals our brains release when we feel attracted to someone. Fun right? Yes, but it can also function pretty much like an opiate and cause feelings of attachment, comfort . . . and trust.

And it’s that trust—real or imagined—that may begin to explain why some people continue to share highly personal information including sexual or nude photos with others on their digital devices despite potentially scandalous fallout.

LRT2014_Infographic-Global-FNLRecently, McAfee released the findings from their 2014 Love, Relationships & Technology survey that illustrates the casual way adults continue to treat intimate information online. Of the over 9,000 consumers worldwide, ages 18-54 polled, almost half (49%) have sent or received intimate or sexually explicit text messages, email or photos or filmed sexual video content. And only 28% of the people who sent or received sexts or intimate text messages, emails or photos delete the message from their device as soon as they have sent/received it. 42% have sent sexts or sexually explicit text messages to their boyfriend/girlfriend, but 16% have sent sexts to a complete stranger!

Even though we share our bank accounts details (43%) mobile phone content (48%), including texts, emails and photos, and passwords (38%), we don’t always trust our partners as shown in the study. 30% of people log into their significant others’ Facebook accounts on a monthly basis by using their passwords and 28% of us have taken their significant other’s mobile device to see the content it has stored .

Valentine’s week is a great time to sit down with your family and attempt to speak louder than the oxytocin. If adults are admitting to such casual behavior online, you can bet that kids aren’t far behind in that trend.

Here are some family talking points and some engaging online activities to help reinforce personal security online.

  • Password-protect your phone, tablets. If your child doesn’t have a screen lock password, be sure she puts one on her phone. Require her to share the password with you only. Remind her that if her phone or gadget is lost or stolen, anyone who picks it up could get access to her information and publish it online.
  • Keep your password under wraps. Remind your child not to share her passwords with their significant other or even their best friend—no exceptions! Let her know that sharing a passcode or PIN, puts her at risk for cyber stalking, identity theft, and leakage of intimate data.
  • Teach your child that people change. While it sounds unthinkable to a teen in love, remind her that even the people we trust today can eventually prove to be inconsistent, untruthful, and even mean. Her boyfriend may be someone else’s boyfriend next year or even next month. Communicate clearly, and candidly, the risk of sending intimate texts or sharing her heart in any digital form.
  • Emphasize reputation and unforeseen risk. Your teen may not relate to a boyfriend sharing an intimate photo (unthinkable) but she will relate to the need to protect their reputation. By being casual with intimate photos and texts messages, she is opening up her reputation to harm.
  • Define ‘intimate’ or ‘private’ for your child. What you define as intimate and private and what your child considers to be intimate could be far different. Set the standard and communicate it clearly. Then, go through her Twitter or Instagram feed together and illustrate your point.
  • Shared info belongs to the world. Remind your child before she hits send, post, upload, or tweet, that her information, once shared, will be out of her control. From that point forward, she will be reliant on others to protect her privacy.
  • Clean sweep devices. Everyone has something on their phone—either notes, emotionally charged texts, or emails that they forgot to delete. Ask your child to sweep her phone clean of anything that could cause embarrassment. Delete, delete, delete!
  • Protect your devices. Protect all of your family’s data, identity and devices with comprehensive security with McAfee LiveSafe™ service that protects all your families PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets.


To learn more, join the conversation using the #SextRegret hashtag or follow @McAfeeConsumer or @SafeEyes  on Twitter or Facebook. Talking with others, sharing lessons, and getting support is a fun way to learn about safety!

And to stress the importance of protecting your mobile device, play the Crack the PIN to win game. This was launched by Intel and McAfee to teach you how to take simple steps toward privacy everywhere by locking, tracking, and encrypting your devices. Go to to try and win a Samsung Galaxy tablet or McAfee LiveSafe if you guess the PIN!

The Futures Company and MSI conducted surveys in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Japan, Mexico, China, India, Singapore and Brazil among 9,337 men and women, ages 18 to 54. The survey was conducted in December 2013 – January 2014.





Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @SafeEyes. (Disclosures).

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Could Your Social Media History Come Back to Bite You?

August 9th, 2016

Social Media HistoryGetting caught in a social media faux pas seems to be the new normal. The latest? The newly crowned Miss Teen USA, Karly Hay, landed in the hot seat for several alleged racial slurs in tweets she posted in 2013.

Next week, it will be someone else under fire because our fast-moving digital conversational today could carry a fresh context several years from now. And then you’ll have some explaining to do, like Hay who says about her tweets: “Several years ago, I had many personal struggles and found myself in a place that is not representative of who I am as a person.”

Hay’s response is a great place to start the social archives conversation in your family. Your kids are gramming, snapping, tweeting, texting, posting and commenting every single day. In fact, the latest stats on teen social media activity from Pew Research Center reflect that 92% of teens report going online daily — including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly.”

With so much activity, it’s just a matter of math before some questionable content resurfaces and compromises a job, a scholarship, or even a personal relationship.

Old social posts don’t just haunt celebrities; we are all considered public figures in today’s digital culture of 24/7 publishing. Everyone’s online activity is up for scrutiny. Behavior once viewed as nosey or stalker-like is now quite commonplace. Interested in someone? Google them? Want to find out about your suspicious neighbor that just moved in? Yup, google them. Activities such as “trawling,” — digging through someone’s online history to find something negative to use against them — isn’t farfetched. In fact, the media does it every day as a common research practice. If you are an educator, a government employee, a public official, or anyone in a public role, it’s likely your online information could be trawled sooner or later.

Eight tips for smarter posting

1. Vet your content. Ask yourself some key questions: Is there anything in this post or comment that could hurt me in the future? Does this post defame a specific race, religion, or lifestyle? Is this content contributing to the conversation or just noise?shutterstock_356799956

2. Be careful with humor. Not everyone shares your type of humor. Just ask Justine Sacco, a woman with only 170 Twitter followers, who became a headline within three hours when one stupid tweet ruined her life.

3. Don’t pick at it—purge it. No doubt, people change. You may not be the 20-something hot head that began tweeting or blogging nearly a decade ago, but your archives are still out and say otherwise. In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, some of which we can apply here.  1) Don’t analyze everything and just pair down — purge. 2) Get rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy for you 3) Don’t ask yourself what you like about a photo or post, ask yourself  ‘why should this stay?’ 4) keep only the content that makes you happy or inspires you. Chop everything else.

4. Use Twitter’s advanced search. Some of us have tweeted out several novels-worth of content. Who has time to go through that? Twitter has advanced search features that will help you quickly find questionable tweets. Just go to and enter keywords and phrases, along with your user account name. This search will help isolate tweets that could be compromising.

5. Am I being true to who I am? Most tweens and teens are not asking themselves this question, but we can still encourage our kids to engage in this specific self-reflection. Encourage young publishers to think about what message and image they hope to project to go through their archives with that in mind. Encourage them to review everything about their profiles from their bio to the kinds of movies and books they’ve called out, to their Facebook groups. Ask: Is this still who you are? Are these still the interest you’d like to project?

6. Delete immediately:shutterstock_77171608

  • Inactive social media accounts
  • Provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos, or posts
  • Posts or photos that include drinking or using drugs
  • Discriminatory comments related to race, religion, gender, etc.
  • Content that complains about a previous employer or colleague
  • Posts that are overly cynical, grumpy, or mean

7. Review likes and post privacy settings. Even the posts of others’ (that are marked public) that you like or comment on will show up on Google, which means others could judge you guilty by association. It may be time-consuming, but you can clean up your Facebook ‘like’ history in the Activity Log. If you want to share but still limit who can view your posts, go to privacy settings of that post and change the privacy settings of your current and past posts.

8. Search yourself. Google yourself (also Yahoo and Bing). See what comes up. Be sure to check images, video, news, and more tabs. You just never know what content will make it into remote circles. If you find something surprising, contact the site host and request they remove the content.

Has your past social media ever come back to haunt you? Please share!

ToniTwitterHSToni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family and @ToniBirdson

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Social Media Harassment is a Real Threat. Here’s How to Protect Yourself.

August 8th, 2016

It is an almost undisputable truth that access to a cloak of anonymity and a large, large microphone brings the worst out in some people. Today, this is particularly true on social media. Online harassment and hate-messaging is a growing trend and a growing security concern for anyone on social media today. In fact, 40% of Internet users say they have personally experienced online harassment.

Harassment on the Web has also taken its toll on celebrities and public figures, some of which have consequently signed off social platforms for good. And while many of these platforms are taking a stand against harassment, there is still a lot individuals can do in order to stay protected. In fact, there are a lot of things you can do to prevent and fight against online harassment. Here’s where to start:

Secure your accounts.

Account security should be a high priority for you, your loved ones and anyone else — especially during periods of harassment. Every account you have should be secured with a complex password — at least eight characters long, with numbers, capital and lowercase letters and symbols — and two-factor authentication.

Two factor authentication is especially important when it comes to account security. The reason is simple: a lot of harassers are tech-savvy, and enjoy taking over a victim’s account to perpetuate offensive comments in their name, in order to damage their reputation.

Two factor authentication prevents this by requiring a user to both a) know the password and username for an account and b) prove they are who they say they are, by using something only the real user would have. In many cases, this means a service will send the real user a message on their smartphone that the user will use to verify their identity.

Yes, two factor authentication may sound troublesome and time consuming — but it’s far less troublesome and time consuming than repairing your reputation after a compromise.

Control who can follow you, and block harassers.

Facebook and Twitter both feature robust privacy options, allowing you to limit who can see your account, your posts and your information.

For Twitter, it’s a good idea to lock your account. This allows you to approve who can follow you and see your posts. You can also block harassers on Twitter by clicking on the “gear” icon in an attacker’s profile and selecting “block.” Twitter provides some additional privacy tips here.

Facebook offers similar privacy options. You can limit who sees what, block harassers and report illegal (and harassment is illegal) behavior. You can read Facebook’s privacy offerings here, and learn how you can stay safe from harassment on the website here.

Limit what you share online.

Limit how much information you share about yourself on social media websites. Addresses, phone numbers and locations shouldn’t be shared in posts and shouldn’t be included in biographies. Attackers can use this type of information to make false threats and, in some cases, falsify crimes to elicit a police response—this is a technique called “SWATTING” and it’s quite serious. You can find out more about this threat here, and read a reporter’s account of being swatted here.

Do not click links, open messages or engage with harassers.

If you are targeting by harassers, you may be tempted to respond. Don’t. Do not engage with harassers in any capacity. Not only does it empower them, it could also give them an opportunity to commit a cyberattack by tricking you into clicking on a link or opening a file. This is what we call a “phishing attack,” and it’s very common (and often very effective).

Instead, let your friends and family know you’re falling victim to a harassment campaign, and that you won’t be responding to online messages for some time. Make sure you have a comprehensive security solution on your devices, and always be suspicious of unwanted or unwarranted contacts — especially from accounts posing as family members or others you may trust.

Report harassment to the site’s owners. Today, most major social media websites have tools you can easily use to report harassment or other various forms of abuse. Use them (Twitter’s is here. Facebook’s methods are detailed here). But some websites are simply too small to deploy complex reporting tools. If this is the case, then either contact a moderator or email the service by using their contact information — typically located at the bottom of the site’s webpage.

Report harassment to the authorities. In many cases, harassment is illegal. Sustained attacks over social media are definitely illegal. There are options for victims, legally speaking. If you feel a harassment campaign has crossed the line, through which you fear for your safety, then it’s time to contact the authorities.

In many cases, this means submitting complaints with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), or your local police station. The IC3 works with other legal authorities to track down and arrest criminal behavior online. Typically, local police departments have their own websites you can also use to submit complaints as well. Something to note: regardless of how you submit a report, you will need to have proof of harassment. Take screenshots of everything and submit them alongside your complaint.

You don’t have to tolerate harassment, or consider it normal, at any point in time in your online life. You can fight against, and help end, online harassment starting with the pointers above, as well as join our Hack Harassment initiative.

And of course, stay on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats by following me and @IntelSec_Home on Twitter, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.


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