“Being 'on' to be 'in'”

Once personal data is circulating in the www world, it is not so easy to delete it. Young people in particular share personal information without thinking much about it, putting themselves at risk. Safer Internet Day this Tuesday aims to raise awareness of this threat.

It all started with a few threats. Chantal received messages via "SchulerVZ. She knew the sender, and did not respond to the unwanted mail. Shortly afterwards, a profile appeared in her name – with a picture of Adolf Hitler. "I was accused of being right-wing, although that's not true at all," the 16-year-old described her Internet experiences. More profiles with defamatory content followed: "It was completely insulting," says the student from Opladen. The example of Chantal shows how vulnerable young people are when they are on the worldwide web. Chantal and her mother took immediate action and contacted the provider every time. But it should take at least two days each time for the sites to be taken offline. "Something like this goes around faster than the schoolyard," said Chantal. From "SchulerVZ" had come so far no apology. "If you let your child on the Internet, you have to reckon with something like this," it said tersely. Young people want to be "on" in order to be "in": According to the ARD/ZDF online study, young people have been on the Internet longer than in front of the TV for the first time since 2008. Two-thirds of 14- to 19-year-old users are registered in online communities. "They want to meet friends, exchange photos, get to know new people – or just belong," explains Beate Frees from ZDF Media Research.

Great attraction for young people "StudiVZ", "Facebook", "Lokalisten" Co. – virtual communities have a great appeal for young people. Because the Web 2.0 offers "changed spaces for cultivating relationships," explains Hamburg sociologist Jan-Hindrik Schmidt. Say: Everyone can stay in touch with old friends and make new ones again. Among schoolchildren, the phenomenon is even more widespread. Anyone who is not "on" in the afternoon during the virtual schoolyard chat in "VZ" is out of the game. However, private information is often disclosed without hesitation. According to ARD/ZDF information, 75 percent of young users have already posted personal information, preferences or hobbies online. Petra Kain from the police headquarters in West Hesse regularly visits schools. She wants to show how dangerous it is to be careless with one's data. "Bullying has shifted to the chat room," says the chief commissioner. Pornography on cell phones of 12-year-olds, teacher-hating groups in communities and bullying via PC are not uncommon. According to Cain, parents in particular must become aware that children are not safe at home after school. "Parents need to address, educate, and most importantly, engage themselves with new internet applications". Helmut Schneider-Siebert, a teacher at a regional school in Montabaur, knows: "Students want to have fun – and they are under peer prere."Awareness that data in the public domain could have consequences is of little interest to them," he said. The moment counts, and it's more important to be part of it. Virtual communities are still in their infancy. New platforms are added every day – and complaints by the thousands. Alone "SchulerVZ" is to be used every day 5.000 feedbacks received. A study by the Fraunhofer Institute found "unsatisfactory results" for half of the communities studied. According to project member Andreas Poller, this is due to poor configurations. Alexander Robnagel also thinks that improving the technology is the right way to go. "If we want a global impact, we have to start with technology. Our data protection laws stop at the German border," says the lawyer from Kassel.

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