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Instant messaging (IM) is an easy way to stay in touch without having to wait for an E-mail response. You type a message and click “send.” That message instantly appears on another person’s screen wherever he or she happens to be. You can exchange instant messages on computers and cell phones or between computers and cell phones or any other Internet-connected devices.

As great as it is, IM can be dangerous. Like chatrooms, you need to be careful about whom you IM with and what you type. Never give out any personal information in an instant message unless you are 100 percent sure of who is receiving the IM and your parents or guardians have given you permission to do so. Some instant message services make it possible to exchange messages with several people at once — just like a chatroom. So make sure you know everyone on your IM list.

Some instant messaging software can be used to send your picture — in real time — along with your words. Be careful about your privacy and protecting it. Remember, don’t send anyone your photograph online.

Some services encourage you to post a “profile” with information such as your age, sex, hobbies, and interests. These profiles can help you meet similar people, but they can also make you the subject of harassment, even if you don’t post your name and address or other information. If you don’t have a public profile, you’ll be safer and avoid a lot of hassles.

Be sure you know who is receiving the IMs you send. Even if you do know the recipients, anything you type can be forwarded to other people. There is no way to “take back” something once you send it. Be careful about using video or digital cameras and sending images of yourself during an IM session. Remember, you don’t have to respond to any messages especially if they are rude, annoying, or make you feel uncomfortable.