What is social media?
It is hard to define but social media includes: social networks such Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, messaging services such as Twitter, Wikipedia, video-sharing services such as YouTube, and photo-sharing services such as Flickr.
These forms of social media are electronic and let people communicate with one another using technology such as computers, smart phones and the internet.
Social media can be used to socialise and communicate and help you do things, for example, get a message to many people at once, or find a job, but you may not have thought about some of the problems it can cause for you.
Are you sure you want that information to be public?
Michael's Facebook entry about his boss
Michael wasn't happy at work. He thought his boss was picking on him for no good reason. One night he went home angry after work and posted some very negative, abusive and also untrue comments about his boss on Facebook. His boss saw his online comments. Michael lost his job.
Kerry's photos of her 18th birthday party
Kerry had a birthday party where she had too much to drink. Her best friend took some photos of her really "out of it" and Amanda posted them on her Facebook page. Kerry's mother saw them a few days later and suggested she take them down. Kerry did this. Six months later she went for a job but didn't get it. She got some "off the record" feedback that she didn't get it because the prospective employer's human resources department did a Facebook search and came across her birthday photos and decided she wasn't the sort of person they wanted working for them.
Ken's 21st birthday party
Ken posted notice of his 21st birthday party on Facebook including his address.
On the day strangers showed up uninvited, gate crashed the party and vandalised the family home. The police ended up being called.
These examples show some of the unintended consequences of posting information.
Think before you post information, including photos or videos online, or send them to friends. Your privacy is important. There may be negative consequences for you now as well as in the future as once it is out there it can be in many places you didn't even think about. Remember friends can copy what you post and send it to people you don't know who could then send it to even more people.
Information, videos and photos you send your friends through, for example, your mobile or smart phone, could be sent on to other people without your knowledge or permission. Australian privacy laws that may protect your privacy in relation to government and companies don't apply to your friends.
You might be happy for information or photos to be around now for friends but do you want it to be seen by your relatives or teachers, or by a prospective employer when you go for a job in five years or by your children or by a new partner to see in the future?
Some tweets and blogs have led to legal action for defamation. Compensation has had to be paid in some cases. See Things people say for more information on defamation.
What is "sexting"?
"Sexting" is the storing, sending to or sharing with others of sexually explicit information, for example, sexualised or naked photos or videos or text messages, on a computer, over the internet or by a mobile phone.
Can I get into trouble with the police for sexting or what I say through social media?
Yes. If you post something that is threatening or abusive to a person it may be a criminal offence. In some cases it may be criminal defamation. It may also be bullying. For more information on this see Things people say.
"Sexting" may be a criminal offence. If the photo, video or text is about someone under the age of 18 (including yourself) it is possible it could be seen as child pornography. If you create child pornography, send it to someone and/or have it on your mobile phone or computer you could be breaking the law and face jail.
If you are charged and convicted of an offence involving a child you become a child sex-offender and your details go on a child sex offender register. You may also have to keep the police informed of your whereabouts and other personal information. Depending on the offence or offences these reporting requirements could go on for either 8 or 15 years. With some offences repeat offenders have to report for life.
You should be careful about the sharing of sexually explicit material through your phone or the internet even with a consenting adult. Think about unintended consequences before you post, for example, the possibility of the material being sent on to other people.
What if someone takes a sexual picture of me without my permission?
The easiest way to make sure that no one sees sexual pictures of you without your knowledge or consent is to refuse permission for them to be taken. If someone does take sexually explicit pictures of you without your consent it may be a criminal offence. The offence will be seen as more serious if you are under the age of 18 (whether or not you gave permission). If you think a sexting offence may have has been committed, contact your local police for help.
What if someone distributes a sexual picture of me without my permission?
Sometimes people consent to having sexualised pictures taken but not to having the pictures distributed, for example, putting it on Facebook. If someone has distributed sexualised pictures of you without your consent there are a number of things you can do.
You can ask the person and other recipients to remove the pictures. You can also ask the website administrator to remove the images. It may be appropriate to report the incident at http://www.thinkuknow.org.au/site/report.asp or to your local police if you think a crime may have been committed.
In some circumstances you may also be able to take legal action for "breach of confidence". An example of breaking your confidence may be a former partner publishing or distributing a sexualised picture of you in a way that was not intended, for example, by putting it on Facebook, after your relationship has ended. If you had confidentially shared the picture with your partner while in the relationship, putting it on Facebook after your relationship has ended might be seen as breach of confidence owed to you. If the court agrees, it could order the person to not publish the picture again and/or order compensation for the impact on you such as humiliation, anxiety and distress resulting from the publication. Get legal advice if you think this situation applies to you.
I am a young person who has heard I need to be careful who I talk to online because of "grooming". What is that?
When an adult acts to build a trusting relationship with a child or young person through what they say in chat rooms, social networking, emails and so on with the plan of later arranging sexual contact, it is known as "online grooming".
Child sex offenders may get information about a young person from their internet profile and use that information to communicate with them.
Young people need to be careful about who they communicate with online and should not agree to meet a person they have only met online.
See the ThinkUKnow or Cybersmart websites for hints for young people on how to stay in control when using the internet or a mobile phone.
How long does my information stay on social networking sites?
It could live on in ways you have not thought about even if you think you have removed it. See the answers under privacy topic: Internet communications and other technologies on the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website.
Where can I get more information?
The Cybersmart website managed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has useful information for children, young people, parents and teachers about cyber safety issues including how to be in control of online activity.
The ThinkUKnow website has information for parents, carers, teachers and young people about internet safety and things that can go wrong with the use of social media.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website has information covering a range of areas including on privacy risks from using social media.
Things people say has information on how to go about getting something you don't want online taken down, defamation and dealing with cyber bullying.
Young people may be able to get information and advice on cyber issues from the Lawstuff website under the WA heading.
The Department of Communications (DOC) has a publication The Easy Guide to Socialising Online which provides information on how internet users can protect themselves and their information when using social networking sites, search engines and online games.
At the DOC website you can also download a Cybersafety Help Button free application. It provides
internet users, particularly children and young people, with easy online access to cyber safety information and assistance available in Australia. It offers counselling, reporting and educational resources to assist young people deal with online risks including cyber bullying, unwanted contact, scams and fraud, and offensive or inappropriate material.
See also Privacy and freedom of information.
If you're using an Android phone, soon you will be able to download our free app, Below the Belt: Sex, Selfies and Cyber bullying for free legal information for young people about sex and consent, sending sexy pics (sexting) and cyber bullying. The app is currently offline as we are working on improving it to make it more accessible to young people on a variety of digital devices and platforms. If you’d like to send us your feedback or receive an email alert when Below the Belt is available again, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last reviewed: 30/10/2014