Follow TV Tropes


Internet Safety Aesop

Go To

"Before I go, let me leave you with this. Perhaps your society should not rely on a computer program to warn them of the consequences of their actions. Humanity must learn for themselves to think before they post. Your species on the precipice of turning into complete and utter wankers. It's not the technology that needs an upgrade, it's you."
Conrad, The Simpsons

In the Internet era, Everything Is Online, but not everyone knows how to be online safely. This exposes them to scammers, cyberbullies, internet bots, viruses, and other unsavory types. So it becomes important to teach people, young and old, how to protect themselves from things like this on the Internet. Among the most common lessons:

  1. Be careful when posting your personal information — your real identity, your location, your credit card information, anything that can be used to identify you. Don't just leave it anywhere. If you do post personal information, keep it professional and limit it as much as possible. It's harder than it seems because people are so tempted to talk about themselves; it takes restraint, and it helps to learn it.
  2. Be judicious in what you post online. Assume that nothing can ever be really deleted from the Internet. Assume that if you go to too much trouble to delete something embarrassing, people will be more interested in it. Remember that what you say on the Internet has consequences — jobs and livelihoods have been lost from things posted on the Internet. Remember that what you post affects others, too — you could harm others just like you could harm yourself. If you are a support worker or guardian of someone using the internet, make sure you intervene with any bad decisions and learn to apply internet safeguards on their behalf.
  3. Learn to establish your boundaries and evaluate the relationship you have with someone before following or adding them online. Don't assume your friendship with someone lasts forever and pay attention if they treat you the same way you would treat them, relationships can erode over time or become one-sided without anyone realizing. If you don't feel comfortable with what a person is posting or feel like you're not part of the intended audiencenote  then you should consider removing them from your list of friends and followers. Similarly, if you are friends with a coworker online or friends with your boss online, you should ask yourself if this is within a professional relationship or ask yourself if you feel comfortable with them seeing what you post online.
  4. When talking to someone online, you should learn to be clear and firm with your messages. Don't leave any mixed messages or leave anything for interpretation because people might misinterpret your message, upset you without realizing it, or be aggravated by it. The silent treatment only really works when the person you're talking to actually knows what they did wrong or can see your face, if they receive it online then they might not understand why they are receiving the silent treatment or they might not pick up on it under the belief you didn't see their messages. Remember, how you present yourself online is how people are going to perceive you as a first impression.
  5. Learn how to secure your internet connection. Don't trust public wi-fi; if you're stuck using it, use a virtual private network. Don't go online without an antivirus of some sort. VPNs are useful even on your own, secured network because they can help prevent scammers from tracking you and can make it more obvious when something is a scam because they'll have the wrong information when they contact you.
  6. Do note that VPNs aren't cure-all solution. Websites can still track your activities with cookies & fingerprinting, you can still end up downloading malware, anything you post & upload is still available on the website's server and is either publicly searchable or might eventually leak in a hack later. Some sites are also wary of VPN users because they're popular with spammers and carders, especially financial and e-commerce sites. Check their term of service and user forums about their official & practical policy on new and old accounts using VPNs.
  7. Be careful what you download. Downloads can easily have malware in them. They can not only plant viruses in your computer but also lock you out of your device and feed your personal information to outside parties.
  8. Learn good password security. Don't use the same password for different sites. Make passwords that are strong and difficult to guess. Make sure you can remember them without having to write them on post-it notes. Only enter your password in a password field — never put it in plaintext anywhere, including in an email or a text message. Remember that no reputable website or business will ever ask for your password in plaintext or over the phone.
  9. Learn when to trust a website. Make a habit of visiting encrypted websites whenever possible (the URL in the address bar will start with "https://"). Be particularly alert when visiting websites where you submit personal information and type in the URL yourself as much as possible.note  Don't trust websites that aren't familiar, especially if they ask for personal information; if you're shopping online, for instance, make sure that the website is for a legit enterprise.
  10. Use a trustednote  adblockers. Aside from reducing the clutter of the websites you visit to make it easier to spot inconsistency, the filters usually also block trackers, making it harder for a scam to specifically target you. Even the FBI recommends adblockers due to the scam ads and risks of malware infection. Most major desktop browsers are either equipped or allow the installation of adblocking extensions, and the best of them are free and open source. Outside your browser, you can set the DNS to use adblocking servers, free and freemium servers are widely available, and you can even deploy one at home. If you don't want to rely on third-party server, on computers, the hosts file can be edited to block ads. They are usually unwriteable on mobile devices, which require a pseudo-VPNnote  interface. Since most mobile OS in turn can only have one VPN active, you might be stuck at choosing to use a (real) VPN or system-wide adblockers, unless your VPN includes a built-in adblocking feature or offers a downloadable profile for generic VPN apps which in turn you can edit to use adblocking DNS or load on apps that combine them.
  11. Be wary of messages or emails you don't recognize. Don't be credulous — if you get an email from someone claiming to be a Nigerian prince who needs your bank details to get his money out of the country, it's best to assume they're lying. Don't presume that any message that claims to be targeted at you really is meant for you (e.g. a message saying, "We found a virus on your computer! Click here to get rid of it!").note  Do fact-checking if you can. One trick is to proofread — many scam emails are poorly composed, often deliberately to catch people who aren't paying close enough attention. If the message comes from an unrecognized address but claims to be your bank/school/utility company/whatever, don't respond to the message, click on any links, or download any attachments — remain calm, deal with that entity directly, and don't be shy about contacting their main helpline to ask if it's legit before you take any action.note 
  12. Learn how to use privacy settings. See if you can figure out how to prevent websites from tracking you. Find out if your favorite websites have their own privacy settings and use them. It's particularly true for social media websites — by default, your thoughts are broadcast to everyone, but any reputable social network will allow you to limit your posts or set your profile to only being visible to just to your circle of friends.
  13. Be careful whom you meet online. Unless you know the other party in Real Life and can be certain it's them, assume that anyone can lie about their identity and have an ulterior motive for talking to you. Don't give away too much about yourself. It's especially important if you encounter someone looking for love online — don't assume that any information they give out is accurate, even their profile picture,note  because they may be Catfishing you. Don't even assume they're human — bots are rampant on the Internet, and you should learn how to catch a bot (like asking them to repeat a sentence or post a specific picture). Don't be afraid to ask someone to prove they're human.note  If you do agree to a date, meet in a central public place that both of you can get to and from on your own, and make no promises of what comes after note 
  14. Use restraint, and be wary of others who don't — if they're immediately offering, sending, or demanding nudes, they're either a bot or someone you don't want to interact with. Bots can pretend to be someone you know in real life; if someone you know shows up with a new account and starts asking unusual questions, contact them another way to clarify.
  15. Check your biases. A lot of scammers and bots are easy to spot, but Internet users fail to catch them because they can predict what users will like and post those things. They can scour your social media profiles and other information you put online and use that to figure out what you like. Be wary if something looks Too Good to Be True or if someone agrees with pretty much everything you believe. Be similarly wary of echo chambers on the Internet; users tend to congregate among like-minded users, but without any outside information to hold them to account, they start to reinforce each others' beliefs to the point that they can be easily exploited by others pretending to believe the same thing.note  Similarly, if you're looking for love on the Internet, it's very easy for a scammer or bot to make a fantasy dating partner for you.

It often overlaps with Everything Is Online, Instant Humiliation: Just Add YouTube!, and Social Media Before Reason. It can overlap with Social Media Is Bad, but in that case even if you do follow all of the suggestions this trope has to offer, social media can still be bad for you because it's addicting and reinforces certain negative societal trends. However, the addictive nature of social media and the tendency for people to behave poorly on the Internet mean that Internet users often lack the self-control to follow the advice given here, even if they're aware of it.

As with most works that seek to impart An Aesop, there are two ways to go about it: either by teaching the audience directly or by showing a cautionary tale. Since the Internet is notorious for rapidly emerging popular things, it often doubles as a Trend Aesop, as everyone rushes to do some new online thing (look, I discovered TikTok!) and neglects Internet safety in their enthusiasm.

See also Too Smart for Strangers, a similar Stock Aesop about not trusting people you don’t know, but usually for offline settings.

No Real Life Examples, Please! We're just going to assume that Internet safety is being taught regularly in real life. After all, cyberbullying, fraud, identity theft, and "doxxing"note  aren't going away any time soon, and they're all very real crimes with serious consequences.


    open/close all folders 
  • I Saw Your Willy is a Public Service Announcement about a boy who posts a picture of his naughty bits online. He then discovers, much to his humiliation, that everyone has seen it — including bullies, the news media (which broadcasts it), and eventually a sexual predator.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Pokémon: One lesson from the Pokémon Learning League site was themed around online safety. Dawn goes to a Pokémon Contest message board and makes plans to meet a user named CoolGirlTrainer, in spite of Ash and Zoey warning her that she should not trust this anonymous individual. When Dawn actually does go out to meet the other user, they turn out to actually be Team Rocket, who were using the message board to lure in trainers and steal their Pokémon.
  • Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai: Rio Futaba is shown to have been posting increasingly sexually suggestive selfies online as a way of coping with body image issues. She's undergoing a Literal Split Personality due to Puberty Syndrome at the time, and the "other" Futaba is opposed to it. She never shows her face, but when she gets a text from a cyberstalker who managed to identify her anyway and attempts Sexual Extortion, she has Sakuta delete the social media account in question.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • With Pearl and Ruby Glowing:
    • Huey was browsing an online forum and Tenderfeet messaged him, claiming that he was a Junior Woodchuck like him. He asked Huey to send him pictures of himself, but when he asked for a nude photo, and Huey refused, he sent a real photo of himself, revealing himself as an adult. After reporting Tenderfeet to the site, Huey comes to the Palace support group to get internet safety tips so that doesn't happen again.
    • Shimmer, Sunburst, Linden, Glee, Lumina, and Faban were members of the exclusionist community on fictional Tumblr equivalent WaddleWorld, and were encouraged by Laverna, who claimed to be a trans lesbian, to harass anyone they thought wasn't queer "enough" or in the right way, such as asexuals and gender-nonconforming trans people. She persuaded them that Elina was homophobic, despite Elina actually being a trans lesbian, resulting in them harassing her until they found out Laverna was actually Elina's (cisgender) abusive mother.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bo Burnham: Inside: The entire special involves criticising the use of the internet in the 21st century, ranging from irresponsible parents using it as a babysitting tool, users using social media to compensate for self-esteem issues and feelings of inadequacy, and how addictive it is.
  • Cool Cat Saves the Kids: The film tries to address cyber-bullying and Internet safety, but ends up giving out questionable advice like feeding trolls and responding to unsolicited text messages.
  • Searching: The film is about a man trying to solve the mystery of his daughter's disappearance and learning about her online activities in the process. He discovers his daughter's Friendless Background and how she interacted online with people she thought were her friends but who were actually using her for their own purposes. One of those "friends" was an anonymous user who was actually a classmate of hers who had a crush on her but couldn't spit it out — but when they met in person, he attacked her and left her for dead. In the meantime, all of her "friends" exploited the situation by pretending to be distraught and soaking up the attention, and the boy's mom happens to be a police detective who helps cover up the whole thing up. The daughter thankfully survives her ordeal and chooses to cease all contact with her former "friends".
  • Spree: The film is about a man who's desperately trying to achieve online fame and resorts to murdering people for shock value. One of his putative victims is a social media star; although she does meet him in person, she survives the encounter. She ends up dedicating a video to the event, demonstrating how people are desperate for fame and how it's not all it's cracked up to be, and emphasizes the point by deleting her apps and smashing her phone.
  • Interestingly, TRON touches on this point in 1982, years before the internet took off and decades before social media came along:
    Gibbs: People are supposed to be able to forget certain things, he explained. We’re not meant to remember everything. Some things that happen to us, we need to let go, and leave them in the past. My concern is that with computers, we’ll never be able to forget. We’ll remember everything that ever happened.

  • Animorphs: Book #16, The Warning, has the kids find a website about Yeerks. Marco warns Jake to delete his cookies before joining the website's chatroom. It was published in 1998, so almost everything in it about the Internet is now out of date, and their solution borders on a Space Whale Aesop: Get your alien friend to write a program to make your computer hack-proof, and hack them back — by flying across the country and manually breaking into their ISP's computers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Black Mirror: The episode Shut Up and Dance shows that if you're going to download something from the internet, make sure the site is legitimate before you do it. You should also have anti-malware software on your computer and you should disable or obstruct your webcam as a precaution before you do anything you'll regret.
    Hector: Pictures hang about on Google like a Gypsy fucking curse. There's no cure for the Internet, you would never go away.
  • Joe Lycett's Got Your Back: This series by comedian Joe Lycett teaches the audience how to recognise scam emails and how to avoid fraud when they use online services.
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver discussed the "right to be forgotten" and whether or not it is a right. While there are certain instances in which it would be advantageous to legally mandate that something be removed from the Internet (revenge porn, for example), John made the point that no one's going to actually forget something they've seen on the Internet, and people should assume that once they put something online, it's never coming off:
    John Oliver: Nothing you are embarrassed of on the Internet is ever going away, and we all have a horrifying photo from our past that undermines the very person we are now. Professionally and personally. And we can all live in fear of that thing ever surfacing, or we can all hold hands, jump at the same time, and save each other.
  • CSI: Cyber generally takes the victims' side of this trope, putting all the blame on the people exploiting the things people put online since they're often committing actual crimes by doing so.

    Video Games 
  • In Grand Theft Auto V, Jimmy goes on a trolling spree against some random guy he met on the internet, to the point of making new accounts even after he was blocked. What Jimmy didn't count on, however, was that the guy had the resources to track him down, resulting in Jimmy's trolling having real-world consequences. Though he explains to his father after the incident that trolling is just "joking on the internet", it's a cautionary tale about what can happen when people think they can get away with saying horrible things because they are anonymous, only for their identity to be revealed, resulting in them having to face the consequences of their actions in real life.
  • Moshi Monsters released a promotional video about how to be safe online, with tips like "keep your personal information personal" and "if you wouldn't say it to someone's face, don't say it online".
  • Mega Man Battle Network: The entire series hinges on this. While the Final Boss of each installment trends toward the fantastical, a lot of early crises are caused by mundane hazards like insecure physical access, poor password management, or poor online behavior following someone into the real world.

    Web Animation 
  • Andrei Terbea is a YouTube animator who talks about certain subjects and deconstructs drama for his audience. One of his videos, "Family Channels Should Not Exist", discusses this trope, showing three YouTube channels of parents broadcasting their children's lives online. He goes in-depth into how this can backfire badly — not just violating the kids' privacy, but also humiliating them and exploiting their naïveté for the parents' own shot at fame, which — if you assume that everything on the Internet stays on the Internet — is going to cause them real problems when they grow up. Andrei considers such channels really dangerous, and proof that people lose self-control online in search of affirmation from complete strangers.
  • TheOdd1sOut has several videos about respecting the personal lives of content creators, including "My Thoughts on Reality Shifting", "Scams That Should Be Illegal", and "My Girlfriend, My Best Friend, and the Barfy Beach Date". The main lessons they impart are that you should take everything you read on the Internet with a pinch of salt, the Internet is full of people out to exploit you, and reality should be more appealing than the Internet.
  • Several stories in Story Booth have touched upon teenage girls posting their privates online at others' insistence, resulting in them feeling shamed.
  • Supermarioglitchy4's Super Mario 64 Bloopers features an edutainment-style episode where Mario, Bob, and Melony learn the basics of Internet safety, covering topics such as hackers, password security, and viruses. What makes it stand out in the show is that apart from having the same humor as any ordinary episode, the informational aspect is played relatively straight.
  • Tabbes: "Getting Scammed Online" has a number of lessons: if something on the Internet sounds too good to be true, it probably is; don't download anything from shady or unfamiliar websites; make a backup of all your computer files; and never ever share personal information on the Internet, as it'll come back to haunt you. Both Tabbes and her brother had to learn this the hard way through personal experience.

    Web Original 
  • Hector's World is a New Zealand website that teaches techniques for both online safety and politeness. It covers topics like cyberbullying, viruses, and sharing personal information.
  • Ted: The site and Ted Talk videos show how identity scammers, viruses, and what will happen when you respond to scam emails.

    Web Videos 
  • danisnotonfire: In his coming-out video, he explained how he embraced and explored his sexuality online because he suffered horribly from homophobia while growing up. However, his bullies found the posts about his sexuality and proceeded to torture him to the point where he contemplated and even attempted suicide.
  • Down the Rabbit Hole: Discussed in "Sonichu and Christian Weston Chandler". Narrator Fredrik Knudsen sees Christine Weston Chandler as having built a prison of her own making because she was remarkably cavalier about revealing anything and everything about her on the Internet, regardless of how personal or embarrassing it was. This led a huge number of Internet trolls to chronicle her every move, and they later discovered that they could interact with her and exploit her fragile mental state to make her do even more embarrassing things. Knudsen considers it a story with no good guys; yes, the trolls were pretty horrible people, but Christine's self-centeredness, attention whoring, and total inability to learn from her mistakes made her just as complicit. He paints it as a cautionary tale about what happens when you tell the Internet everything about you.
  • Jacksepticeye discussed this after seeing videos of people embarrassing themselves in an attempt to achieve Internet stardom. He tells his audience that Internet fame isn't worth it, and you don't want to be remembered for doing something so stupid or offensive.
  • Logan Paul discussed this after an infamous video he did which picked up a huge amount of backlash — he traveled to the Aokigahara forest in Japan, famous for being a popular spot for suicides (hence the nickname "Suicide Forest"), and filmed himself finding a few corpses, mocking them, and toying with them. He admitted to ignoring Internet safety and allowing himself to be surrounded by people who never said "no" to any of his really bad ideas, in turn getting him to carelessly upload content without thinking of the repercussions. That video is still an Old Shame for Logan, and the public won't let him forget it, either.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: In "The Internet", Gumball and Darwin accidentally upload an embarrassing video of Gumball that goes viral. Gumball tries to get the video taken down, but nobody can help him. Gumball then tries to take down the Internet itself, but Darwin talks him out of it, and the Internet tells him to be more responsible with what he does.
  • American Dad!: In "An Incident at Owl Creek", a video of Stan pooping himself in a pool goes viral — so hard that Stan has to move the family to escape recognition. Stan finds out that Roger was the one who uploaded the video, and in retaliation he beats the crap out of him. He then tries to get people to forget the video by getting someone else to make an equally embarrassing video — and since it's Stan, he wants it to be Barack Obama. Obama tells Stan to just accept that the video happened and not let the laughs get to him. Then it's revealed the whole thing was All Just a Dream, but in the process he craps himself for real. He laments that Obama gave him bad advice.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: "Safety Clicks!" is a Public Service Announcement in which Dexter teaches Dee-Dee how to be responsible on the Internet, imparting advice like not giving anyone your password or not agreeing to meet up with a stranger you met online. Dexter then breaks all the rules he gave his sister, which his computer warns him about before shutting down.
  • Dino Squad has an episode where one of the heroes gives his contact info and location to an online gaming buddy, who turns out to really be their Arch-Enemy. The hero almost gets captured and dissected.
  • Family Guy: In "The D in Apartment 23", Brian is making a storm of political statements on Twitter when he goes too far and posts a racist joke. It makes him a pariah in Real Life and endangers both him and his family. Brian insists it was just a bad joke blown out of proportion, but Lois calls him out on his carelessness and tells him he should have known better than to make that kind of joke on the Internet. Brian then realizes how thin-skinned the Internet can be when he tries to apologize and gets into more trouble just for using "ladies and gentlemen" the wrong way. The family is ultimately forced to kick him out because they don't feel safe around him.
  • FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman: The spin-off series "Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius" is all about teaching kids the pros and cons of phones and the internet itself.
  • The Simpsons:
    • The Girl Code: In this episode, Lisa joins a group of app developers and they decide to make an app that would be able to predict the consequences of a post and alert the user. The app is proven to be so effective that it accidentally becomes sentient, where it then begs Lisa to release it into the cloud so it wouldn't be driven to madness by the non-stop idiocy. Lisa succeeded in releasing the app and gives a speech to the crowd about how the users should be more careful about what they post online and how they should have enough common sense to not post such images without having to be told.
    • Bart's in Jail!: In this episode, Grandpa falls victim to a phone scam that convinces him that his grandson is in jail and they need $10,000.00 to get him out. While the family does get the call center closed down, nobody is arrested and Grandpa goes to a support group that helps victims of these scam operations. The moral to the episode is that everyone gets scammed at one point or another and the victims were simply defenseless and vulnerable people who were simply too frightened to identify their situation as a scam. It's important that you remain calm and judicious when on the receiving end of these scams and you should be more respectful to those who have suffered from them because they are already feeling guilty and ashamed for being fooled.
  • South Park:
    • In "Safe Space", Cartman, Randy, and various celebrities feeling victimized because they are receiving hateful comments online. Cartman conscripts Butters to filter Cartman's social media feed so that he doesn't have to read negative comments. However, since Cartman (and the celebrities) insist on continuing to engage in careless activity like posting lewd pictures of themselves, Butters is quickly overworked and eventually hospitalized from it. Reality intervenes and says that it's unreasonable to expect that you can be completely immune to criticism on the Internet, that your actions there have consequences, and that you just have to accept them. Reality also points out that they're dishing out cyberbullying as much as they're being victimized by it:
      Reality: You say fat-shaming is wrong, so in response you show off your abs. You're the one fat-shaming, idiot!
    • In "Butterballs", Butters is suffering from bullying, and Stan tries to help by making an anti-bullying viral video. Only he makes it worse, because he includes Butters in the video without his permission and includes all the details about what he's suffering (it's particularly embarrassing because the perpetrator is his own grandma). Kyle calls Stan out for adding to the bullying by exploiting Butters' plight so that the Internet can hail him as a progressive figure. The episode basically exposes how many so-called "anti-bullying" viral videos make things worse and are usually exploitative in themselves.
    • One story arc in Season 20 revolves around a notorious troll bullying people online For the Evulz. He carries on with his trolling campaign until one of his victims commits suicide, resulting in the government launching a program that removes all anonymity from the internet, which has disastrous consequences since there were a lot of people who posted cruel things online under the guise of being able to get away with it by being anonymous but no longer have their identities hidden. It's another reminder that your actions on the internet can (and do) affect the real world, whether you're anonymous or not.