Discussing Online Impersonation with Your Kids

The use of someone else’s name to send email, post material, create social networking accounts, or contact other people in any way is called online impersonation or e-personation, and parents should be aware of how online impersonation can be used to harass adults (e.g. teacher, principal, coach) and children.

Since there’s currently no way for most online platforms to verify account information, it’s easy to make an email or social networking account in someone else’s name. Using someone else’s name is a powerful tool for damaging reputations and harassing others. An account made under someone else’s name, especially if its a trusted individual, can be used for everything from cyberbullying to phishing to extortion.

As parents discuss internet safety with their children, they should include discussions about making fake and impersonating profiles online. Show children how to report a fake account (most email or social networking platforms have a "report abuse" option). Discuss the consequences both ethical and legal for impersonating someone else. For example, California passed recently legislation which makes e-personation punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail. Parents should also use the topic to reinforce the importance of never sharing personal information online with anyone and reporting incidents of cyber-abuse to an adult.

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