10 of the Most Controversial Trends on the Internet

Beware of these troublesome trends that continue to grow and thrive online

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The Internet has really opened up a lot of new doors for finding information, sharing our ideas and interacting with each other no matter where we are in the world. People have used the power of the web to build enormously successful businesses, raise millions of dollars in funding for great causes and influence the masses in all sorts of positive, life-changing ways.

It's true that the Internet is one of the most useful things humanity has access to today, but just like everything that's good in this world, it doesn't come without its dark side. From sexting and cyberbullying to phishing and hacking, the online world can quickly turn into a very scary place when you least expect it.

Although there are numerous controversial trends, topics and activities that come in all shapes and forms online, here are at least 10 major ones you should be familiar with and wary of that continue to be a growing problem.

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Woman taking selfie in lingerie

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Sexting is a slang term used to describe texting or messaging sexually explicit content — either by words, photo, or video. It's a popular activity for teens and young adults who are eager to impress their boyfriends, girlfriends or crushes. Snapchat, the ephemeral messaging app, is a popular platform choice for sexting. Photos and videos disappear a few seconds after they've been viewed, leading users to assume their messages will never be seen by anyone else. But many people — including both teens and adults — end up having to face the consequences when recipients end up saving or sharing their sexual photos or messages. They can often end up posted on social media or other websites for absolutely anyone to see.

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Young girl on cell phone

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While traditional bullying typically occurs face to face, cyberbullying is the equivalent of what takes place online and behind screens. Name-calling, humiliating photo posts, and insulting status updates are all examples of cyberbullying that may take place on social media, via text messaging, on website forums or by email. Social apps geared toward young users like Yik Yak have zero tolerance policies for cyberbullying and any other forms of online harassment. Kids and teens are especially vulnerable, given that they start using the Internet and certain social media sites at such a young age these days. If you're a parent with a child or teen who uses the Internet, consider learning more about cyberbullying to help identify and prevent it.

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Cyberstalking and "Catfishing"

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Even before the Internet was such a social place, stalking could be achieved through forums, chat rooms, and email. Now with social media overtaking the Internet paired with mobile location sharing, stalking is easier than ever. Referred to as cyberstalking, it all takes place online rather than physically in person. It's a trend that has led to another form of controversial online activity commonly known as catfishing, involving predators and pedophiles who pose as someone completely different online to try to lure innocent people and teens into meeting up with them in person. Meetups may result in abduction, assault or even worse consequences in very extreme cases.

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Revenge Porn

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Revenge porn involves taking sexually explicit photos and videos that were obtained in prior relationships and posting them online along with their names, addresses and other personal information as a way to "get back" at them. In many cases, a person may even have photos or videos taken of them or from them unknowingly and without their consent. In April of 2015, the operator of a revenge porn website in the US was sentenced to 18 years behind bars. Prior to his arrest, victims who wanted their sexually explicit photo or videos and personal information removed from the site were demanded to pay up to $350 for their removal.

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Exploitation of the "Deep Web"

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The Deep Web (also known as part of the Invisible Web) refers to a part of the web that goes far beyond what you see on the surface during your everyday browsing activity. It consists of information that the search engines can't reach, and it's been estimated that this deeper part of the web is likely several hundred or even thousands times larger than the Surface Web — similar to the tip of an iceberg you can see, with the rest of its massive size submerged underwater. It's an area of the web where, if you decide to explore it, you might come across all sorts of horrendous and unimaginable activity. 

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Person typing on laptop

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Phishing is the term that's used to describe messages disguised as legitimate sources or intended to trick users. Any links that are clicked may lead to malicious software being downloaded and installed, designed to gain access to personal information so money can eventually be stolen. Most phishing scams are received by email and are carefully crafted to look like they're disguised as reputable companies or people so they can persuade and urge users to take some form of action. You can see a gallery of phishing email examples to help you identify them quickly so you can delete them immediately.

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Hacks and Security Breaches of Password-Protected Information

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Phishing certainly can lead to identity theft, but you don't necessarily have to click on a suspicious link in order to have any of your personal accounts hacked or taken over by someone else. Huge websites like LinkedIn, PayPal, Snapchat, Dropbox and many others suffer security breaches all the time, often leading to thousands of users' personal information being stolen. Another more recent trend involves hackers or "social engineers" making it their business to reverse engineer users' email passwords, with the intention of taking over influential social accounts that have lots of followers, so they can sell them on the black market for profit.

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"Unprofessional" Social Media Behavior

Business woman with face hidden holding up sign that reads "you're fired!"

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If you're looking for a job, or simply just want to keep your job, you better be careful with what you decide to share on social media. Employers will often Google search candidates or check them out on Facebook prior to bringing them in for an interview, and countless people have lost their jobs for controversial status updates and tweets they posted. In related cases, employees who run corporate social media accounts have also found themselves in some serious hot water for making inappropriate comments or posts. Be mindful of what you shouldn't be posting online if you want to maintain your professional reputation.

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Crime scene tape around laptop

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The Internet is so convenient and widely used that all sorts of illegal and criminal activity are carried out on it every day. From subtle incidents like copyrighted content piracy and underage users of adult websites to far more serious activities like murderous threats and terrorist plans — social media is where it often ends up taking place. Countless people have confessed to murder via Facebook, even going so far as to share photos of their victims' bodies. Regardless of what gets posted, social media is now an important source for law enforcement to assess in helping them solve crimes. If you ever come across suspicious activity on Facebook or any other online platform, be sure to report it right away.

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Internet Addiction

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Internet addiction is becoming more of a widely recognized psychological disorder, involving overuse of computers and the Internet that negatively impact people's everyday life. The condition comes in many forms, including addiction to social media, pornography, video gaming, YouTube video watching, and even selfie posting. In China, where Internet addiction among teens is considered a serious problem, military-style addiction boot camps exist to help cure them. There have been several reports of very harsh and violent discipline tactics used to treat patients at some of these places. It's been estimated that China has about 400 boot camps and rehabilitation centers for the Internet-addicted.

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