Lots of people meet friends online, and this can be an opportunity to connect with others who have similar interests or life experiences. But sometimes online, someone who initially appears to care about you can take advantage of you.
Here are some tips from our team to help keep you safe.
Stick to social media sites you know
Most well-known social media sites have easy ways to report and block people if you don't want to talk to them anymore. They also give you better control over your privacy settings. If someone sends you a link to a chatroom you’ve never used before or never heard of, it's safest to avoid using it. If you want to carry on talking to them, tell them you're more comfortable on sites you know.
Look out for profiles that may be fake
If you’ve ever watched Catfish then you’ll know that people often steal other people’s photos and make a fake profile. If you’re feeling a bit suspicious, have a look through their photos. Does the photo they claim to have taken the other day look a bit like it’s from 2008? Are they wearing shorts and surrounded by those classic American red party cups, but claim they’re from the UK?
Some other signs of fake profiles include:
No pictures of an actual person
Friends don't like/comment on posts
The account was created recently
No (or not many) contacts in common
While it can seem great to have lots of friends on social media, you shouldn't accept someone's friend/follow request just because they've added you.
Don't share too much about yourself
Sharing too much personal information could allow someone to know more about you than you're comfortable with. This could include things like:
Photos in your school/work uniform
Pictures including the outside of your house (this could include not showing the car number plates)
Things that let people know where you are at certain times (e.g. your school/work address, sports club, where you go for a run at the weekend)
Talking about, or sharing photos of, expensive possessions
Check your privacy settings so that only people you trust can view your profile and don't give away personal details to people you only know online.
Know your rights about nudes
Firstly, it's important to know that any naked photos/videos of someone under 18 are illegal (these are classed as ‘indecent images of a child’). This includes taking them, sending them or having them on your phone. These could be images of yourself, or someone who is now 18 but wasn't at the time.
If you're aged 18 or over, while you can legally send and receive nudes, it's still important to know your rights.
You shouldn't have to send a naked picture if you’re not comfortable with it
It's illegal for someone to take intimate images of you without your knowledge, you should be in control of who sees your body and when
Someone can't share your nudes without your consent. If this happens, there are people there to help you; contact the Revenge Porn Helpline for advice.
Although social media companies and support organisations can do their best to remove any images, it's not always guaranteed that it's completely gone from the internet. It's worth bearing this in mind before taking or sending nudes.
Be cautious of gifts or favours
If someone you have never met is sending gifts, or doing you favours, they might be doing this because they want something from you. Some example might be credit for an online game, new clothes, or food. People can use these gifts to make you feel like you owe them something back (which by the way, you don’t). If someone online offers to buy you a gift, politely refuse. If you feel under pressure, use the tips below to block or report them.
Know how to block or report someone
If you decide you don't want to speak to someone anymore, it's useful to know how to block them. Click the links below for information on how to do this on different sites.
If the person has made you feel uncomfortable or scared, it's also important to report them. This will help keep you and other people safe as well.
If someone has made threats, or you think it might be a hate crime, read our blog for advice on what to.
If you meet up, think about where
If you’re going to meet up with someone you’ve met online, make sure you do so in a public place.
This could include:
Cafes/restaurants (big-name or chain stores are more likely to have CCTV or staff trained to keep you safe)
Busy town centres
Organised events (if you're meeting someone based on a shared interest, stick to organised events where there are staff or stewards there if you need them)
The safest thing to do is to take some else with you. If you can't do this, make sure someone you know knows where you're going and ask them to check in with you. It can be a warning sign if the person insists on meeting you on your own or in private.
Remember, someone's life online isn't always their real life
People only show what they want people to see, and seeing this can make people feel like they’re not as attractive, successful or happy as everyone else. Remember that staying safe is more important than getting a lot of likes, comments or followers. The person who's following you, or talking to you, might not be that person at all.
Our tips above can help you stay safer online, but if something doesn't feel right, go with your "gut feeling". It's better to be overly-cautious and keep yourself safe than not speak up when you think you should have.