Virtual Environments: In virtual environments users control a character, called an avatar, that represents them in a virtual world. Some virtual environments are games, while others are focused more heavily on socializing, but all involve communicating with other users.
Social Networking and Virtual Environments are two popular ways of socializing online.
There are minimal levels of supervision in social networks and virtual environments. Social networks allow users to set privacy levels to protect their personal information, but few do. Most virtual environments employ moderators to keep out offensive topics or harassment, but the size of these virtual worlds, as well as the number of users, makes supervision very difficult.
Club Penguin is an example of a virtual environment whose main focus is socializing.
Join a Learning Environment
Some virtual environments, such as Whyville, were created for educational purposes. These are also often the best-monitored environments.
Start a Virtual Club
Social networking sites like Facebook allow you to create groups for people who share your interests. Use that feature to start your own book or film club with your friends
A great thing about the Internet is that you can talk to people without being judged by how you look, how you speak, or whether or not you're cool. Unfortunately, though, the same technology that lets you communicate without being judged by your appearance may also help online predators trick you. Those same chat rooms that attract kids and teens are also going to attract people who want to exploit them, because there's nothing that prevents those people from pretending to be a young person.
Many online predators are smart and patient. They take their time getting to know potential targets and will often groom three or four kids at the same time. They earn trust through the use of attention, affection, kindness and even gifts. They are often willing to devote considerable amounts of time, money and energy to this process. They listen to, and empathize with, your problems and will often be aware of your interests, hobbies and taste in music. (In other words, if an online friend seems too good to be true, or an instant soul mate, your antennae should be up!)
Some predators try to lower young people's inhibitions by gradually introducing sexual comments into their conversations; others immediately start talking about sex.
The trick is in knowing when you can trust someone online. When the Media Awareness Network asked a group of adolescent girls how long it took for them to feel that they could trust an online friend, their answers ranged from "15 minutes" to "two weeks." The reality is that bad things do happen, and what's scarier, is that many young people try to deal with negative experiences like these on their own. Online stalking is more than upsetting — it's illegal for adults to try and lure young people, so you have a right to ask an adult for help if this happens.
Predators know that eventually they're going to have to admit who they are. What they're counting on is that by then, they will have built such a solid relationship with you, that you will "forgive" them. Others will use previous conversations or their knowledge about your family or friends as a way to blackmail you into a real-life meeting. In some cases, online predators are able to fool kids about their identities right up to a real-life meeting - which can easily put you in danger. That's why it pays to take an adult with you when meeting an online friend. If they have nothing to hide, they won't object.
A flip-side of this problem is when teens use social networking sites to post provocative pictures of themselves, or use virtual environments to flirt with people they don’t know. Some young people do this because they like to play with their identities, experimenting with the idea of sexuality, but what may seem like innocent fun to you and your friends might look very different to an adult — a stranger, your principal or your mother. Others see sexual chat as a way to experiment sexually from the safety of their own computers. It's true that you can't get pregnant or catch a sexually transmitted disease from online sex, but you can end up being harassed or even blackmailed by the person you are cybering with. Most teens think they can't be traced, but the truth is, if someone really wants to find out who you are online, there are many tricks — and even software — to help them discover your identity.
Luckily, if people can find out about you, then you can find out about them. If you have an e-mail address for that person, you can go to a Web site like Visual Ware and download software that traces IP addresses through e-mail addresses. (Even Hotmail addresses can be traced back to a city of origin.) If the person you're corresponding with says they're from sunny California, and the city of origin for their e-mal address turns out to be Sudbury, you should wonder what else they're not being honest about!
Because an IP address is like a telephone number for a computer, it can be important information for you to have. That way, if an online acquaintance turns out to be nasty, police can use their IP address to track them. (Letting an online acquaintance know that you have this information can also make you a less desirable target if they are up to no good.)
Think about it...