Staying safe online during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Tips for young people

A girl using computer
17 April 2020

The COVID-19 virus has impacted all aspects of our lives.  With schools closed, and lockdowns imposed, you may be spending all your time at home and will most likely be spending a lot of that time, online.  This opportunity to spend so much more time online can be both a positive thing and a social lifeline, but it also comes with the possibility of increased risks. 

Here are some practical steps you can follow to keep yourself safer during this period, and to improve the time that you and your family have both online and offline: 

  1. Check your privacy settings on ALL of your social media accounts, and know how to set your accounts to private, or to friends online.  You can find advice here or  here on how to change your settings.
  1. Make sure that when you are using any applications that uses video, your location cannot be identified.  When you step away from the camera for any reason, the video may still be recording. It’s ok to cover the camera when not using it. ALWAYS ensure that the video is turned off at the end of the sessions.
  1. Be extra careful of how you treat and communicate with your friends online during this time.  Think about how what you are saying might impact on those who see what you say, like and share. 
  1. Meeting new people is part of the attraction to being online but be extra careful while you are online during the pandemic.  Remember that not everyone online who wants to talk to you has the same reason as you for wanting to chat.  If you are in any doubt, block the person, and speak to a trusted adult about your concerns. 
  1. You may receive unwanted messages, photos and videos, including with sexual content or be pressured to share images of yourself from people you know and from strangers. You can tell them it is not ok if you feel safe or comfortable to do that, delete what you receive, block them, and/or report them. Think about what you share – you cannot control what happens to your image once you have sent it. And remember - it is not ok share other people’s private images.
  1. If anyone online asks you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable in any way at all, end the conversation immediately, and block the person.  If you do something that you realise was not a good idea, or that you regret, speak to an adult about it, someone you know and trust, as soon as possible.  It is never too late to ask for help.
  1. Find and agree with your parents, an adult you can trust to speak to: It is common for young people to not want to speak to parents about many of the things that bother them, or that may involve any forms of sexual exploration or behaviour, either online or off.                                                                                                                                                                                    Know where to seek help and assistance:  it is important that you know where you can report any experiences online that make you feel uncomfortable, or where to report any online sexual violence that you may encounter.                                                                                                                             Remember that blocking, and reporting, are not the same.  If you are asked for, sent, or see any sexual content, videos, or photos when you do not want them, or want to share, you can report that to the platform, in addition to blocking the sender.                                                                                          If your own nude or explicit image has been shared, you can report it to the platform or application where it was shared and to the Internet Watch Foundation to get it taken down.                                                                                                                    Reach out for support - you can talk anonymously to someone about your experiences through local online and telephone helplines.  Contact a national Childline Helpline.
  1. This is not an easy time. You may feel more anxious and frustrated than usual while being isolated at home.  While being home and indoors so much, and being physically isolated can be stressful, it is also an important opportunity to deepen your friendships and relationships, and to explore new offline or online hobbies or do things you usually don’t have time to do
  1. Try and spread your time between the different online activities, to make sure that you allocate enough time for doing some homework and schooling from home, as well as time on social media, gaming and chatting.  Think of how to keep fit and healthy with online fitness programmes or challenges – things you can do online for yourself, or with friends and family.  It is also important that you allocate time to ensuring your mental well-being.  You could try meditation or relaxation apps and programmes. Think about how you can be more creative online:  Are there social mobilization campaigns you can design and lead, that you think other children your age could benefit from, either in your city, or all over the world?  Help with online support or safety messaging and campaigns? Now would be a good time to see if there are any volunteer activities that you could support through the digital space.

And remember that it is also important to take breaks from being online! Spend time doing other things. Spend quality time with your family. And at night, think about turning off your notifications and placing your device away from where you sleep so you can get some rest.

Developed by UNICEF East Asia and Pacific with the support of Patrick Burton and Monica Bulger 2020