Adults with disabilities are targeted online by cyberbullies and predators. Here are some tips to keep yourself safe online.
Virtual interactions are like a jungle with unknown and unseen dangers. When you interact on a screen you can’t confirm the person on the other side is truthful. Predatory behavior online can look like harassment, bullying, and extorting money. When someone hides behind a computer screen they can assume any persona they wish. At times, this persona may be dangerous emotionally and physically. Online trolls seek out ways to upset you. They want to push you to your emotional limit until you take drastic actions.
Hate speech, derogatory comments, and sexual harassment are present online daily. Scrolling through YouTube comments you will see a myriad of troll comments with racial slurs or abuse at the content creators and fans. Even though it is a jungle out there, you can identify the proverbial beast in the grass before they strike.
Know your platform
Before you click that browser window and go online, set a goal. Whether you are using the internet for business, school, or leisure time it is important to evaluate the purpose of your visit to cyberspace. Some platforms and communities have a negative reputation. Snapchat is known for “hookups” and Twitter for drama and intense arguments. You need to evaluate the purpose of the platform and try to match your goal.
Always evaluate your purpose of being online before joining communities.
After you choose your platform, keep in mind that people are deceptive. Sadly, the autistic and disability community or those with mental health challenges are targeted. Some seek out vulnerable individuals to take advantage of, so be on guard.
Caution over transparency
Withholding your neurodiverse status may be beneficial when joining communities unless it is a group specifically for the neurodivergent. Disclosing your disability status can bring predators to your door. The National Bullying Prevention Center found that children with any developmental disability diagnosis were more likely to be the victims of cyberbullying. In research from, Kowalski et al. it was determined that “Predictors of victimization included traditional bullying victimization, Internet use, and the noticeability of the disability.”
Be careful when sharing your neurodiversity or disability status.
No one online can see if you have a disability, the only way they know is if you tell them.
Another vital part of online safety is never disclosing your financial status. This includes if you are on social security or any government assistance. It is a red flag for danger if you receive requests for money. Do not send people wire transfers, checks or give them your credit card information. If someone is pressuring you into giving them access to funds, reach out to your support system for help.
Do not disclose personal information
Personal information includes your address, phone number, date of birth and first and last name. It is worth it to be cautious when discussing your location which includes landmarks in your surrounding area. It is possible to calculate your location based on a picture. For example, taking a selfie outside your home can reveal the license plates on vehicles parked on the street. Possibly even street signs are visible that you accidentally capture in the photo. It may seem insignificant, but those landmarks can tell your location.
Do not share personal details, including photos of your home and surrounding areas. Do not send people you meet online money.
Cybersafety is universally important, but it is especially vital if you are neurodiverse or identify with a disability. The cyber-world is full of cloaked predators behind a screen. They prey on those they perceive as vulnerable and will take advantage of opportunities to exploit you.
Be careful out there in the cyber jungle and always put your safety first.
More safety resources to review ….
Kowalski, Robin M., et al. “Cyberbullying among College Students with Disabilities.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 57, 2016, pp. 416–27. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.12.044.
“Bullying of Students with Disabilities.” Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center, www.pacer.org/bullying/info/students-with-disabilities. Accessed 3 May 2021.
Marshall, C. A., Kendall, E., Banks, M. E., & Gover, R. M. S. (Eds.). (2009). Praeger perspectives.Disabilities: Insights from across fields around the world, Vol. 1. The experience: definitions, causes, and consequences. Praeger/ABC-CLIO.