By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

It’s a pretty well-known reality, if you show up at someone’s doorstep on Halloween, with no attempt at wearing a costume or something that revels in the spirit of the night, the homeowner is under no obligation to give you candy. The social contract of the evening is wear a costume and get a treat. Why? On all other nights, showing up at someone’s house who you may not even know in real life and asking for something is awkward, right?  The costume is what makes it seem appropriate to interact with strangers in this very personal way. Take the costume away, and the request for a candy bar feels a little off, doesn’t it, if it’s not on this one night.

Our digital worlds, from our phones and screens of all kinds, to gaming and various social media platforms, have quite literally taken the front door off our virtual houses and invited strangers into our lives. And, unlike that really cute 5-year-old grim reaper who visits your house later this month, these strangers are not always kind and harmless. Some of them might actually be devastatingly scarier than any Halloween prank.

So, in the spirit of Halloween, we want to remind you that when it comes to your online presence, you need to cultivate a digital persona 365 days a year, a costume of sorts, that protects your identity and ensures your well-being, no matter who you meet online.

GIVE YOURSELF AN ONLINE NAME THAT PROTECTS YOUR TRUE IDENTITY

  • You should have multiple online identifies – email addresses or profile names – some that are like a Halloween costume that protect your identity from strangers and others that you use for family and friends. Where appropriate, your email address and your account names should not reveal your real name. Create a character for yourself – this is your costume – and use that theme to inform the names you choose for email addresses and account profiles.

REVEAL AS LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AS POSSIBLE

  • Consider whether or not your social media and other accounts should be public or private and review available privacy settings that suit your needs. Determine whether or not your public profiles should not reveal your real name, your gender or have a picture that shows your face.

ONLY REVEAL YOUR SECRET IDENTITY TO A SELECT FEW

  • When communicating online, do not broadly share personal information, like your address or when you will be out of town. If someone is reaching out to you for private information, be sure that you can confirm who they are and that they can be trusted before sharing ANY personal information online. Halloween is all fun and games, but meeting with a stranger in real life that you met online can be very, very dangerous. Exercise extreme caution before you decide to take this potentially unsafe action.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS, OPINIONS, EMOTIONS – AND PICTURES, CAREFULLY

  • Even though you are wearing your digital costume, remember that anything created online – even not under your real name – can be traced back to you. So be respectful, the internet has an excellent memory. Whatever you post, comment or like is there, out in the cloud, waiting for someone to inquire about you. Your online identity is being meticulously recorded via data collection. The way people will know you is increasingly more and more online. So you need to be careful how you present yourself, and who you present yourself to.

CHOOSE TO LET YOUR ONLINE PERSONA MODEL THE BEST YOU POSSIBLE

  • Social media, at its best, is about creating community – not breaking it down. How you treat others online, has everything to do with how you will be treated. The Golden Rule may not always work, but it’s a great starting point for all online interactions.

No doubt, you will survive Halloween’s ghouls and scares on October 31. Protect yourself online and be sure that you keep the scary at bay the rest of the year.

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Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.