Today’s columnist, Superintendent Colin McFarlane: How to stay safe online

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I recently led South Yorkshire Police’s involvement in Safer Internet Day.

The national event, which took place on Tuesday, February 9, involved organisations across the UK joining forces to promote the safe use of digital technology for children and young people.

We have all seen how the internet and use of mobile phones has grown rapidly over the last decade and now more than ever, it is important that young people protect themselves from becoming at risk through technology.

In a bid to raise awareness about the risks, South Yorkshire Police was one of hundreds of organisations to take part in the event that was organised by the UK Safer Internet Centre.

The centre, which is run by three UK charities, was set up to provide a bank of information for a wide audience including young people, parents and schools.

As well as providing resource packs, the centre operates a helpline and a hotline that allows you to report things you have seen online.

The hotline is run by the Internet Watch Foundation and allows you to report anonymously, anything categorised as obscene.

The IWF works with police to assist investigations.

We are not telling young people not to use the internet, because the internet provides opportunities for young people to be creative, access information and communicate with friends.

But what we are trying to promote is that there are ways to use the internet in a safe and responsible way.

The centre uses the term SMART to try and help young people understand the risks of the internet and as a force, we support the advice:

* SAFE – don’t give out personal information when you’re chatting or posting online. This includes your email address, phone number and password.

* MEET – meeting someone you have only been in touch with online can be dangerous. Remember online friends are strangers even if you have been talking to them for a long time.

* ACCEPTING – Don’t open or accept files or messages from people you don’t know. They may contain a virus or a nasty message.

* RELIABLE – someone online might lie about who they are and information on the internet may not be true. If you like chatting on line, it’s best to only chat to your friends and family.

* TELL – tell a parent, carer or trusted adult if someone or something makes you feel uncomfortable or worried.

You should also tell someone if you know someone is being bullied online.

So, if you are a parent, carer or teacher, it is worth having a look at the website Uk Safer Internet Centre and encouraging your children to have a look as well.

The resources are aimed at young people up to the age of 19 but there are helpful packs for parents, carers, social workers, teachers and others who regularly work alongside children.

It is vitally important that we educate young people about the safe use of the internet and ensure that they know what steps to take to limit the chances of them being vulnerable online and the advice available is valuable no matter what your age.