Safe Meeting of Online friends
The whole thing about the internet is that it is safe. The press yells at us that it isn't. Parents believe the press and say "the internet is not safe!" But it is. It's a sanitised medium where every individual is totally safe.
What isn't safe is arranging a meeting when you have no idea what you are doing to protect yourself. In fact there are a few things that are definitely not safe:
- Doing anything that is out of character, "as a favour" for an online friend, especially if this is a criminal act
- Doing something you don't understand when someone asks you to do it
- Giving away sufficient personal data to identify who you are and where you live
- Sending a photograph to someone you don't know
- be wary about giving out details of your schedule or habits
- Look for inconsistencies in their story
- If they are unwilling to talk about themselves online, think most carefully about continuing the conversation
- Be aware that webcams and voice, while "fairly reliable" can be misleading, especially just voice
- Arranging to meet someone for the first time without safety precautions
OK, that isn't a definitive list, but it's a start. I'm not saying "don't do these", well except the criminal one. What I am saying is "think before you do any". By the way, Products like Word identify you in the document you send by email. So, if you have that identity stuff in your PC, look at "Document properties" and see what it says about you. Then decide what to send.
Why do I care so much about protecting yourself online?
That is dead simple. You are a nice, good, decent, honest person. Most of us are. Very few people are downright nasty, and fewer still mean us harm. But you are here, on a gay site, and you are probably a minor. And all minors, gay or straight, need to protect themselves from predators, male and female, more than adults do. It is just one of those things.
You can not protect your heart. Falling in love online is an easy thing to do. And having your heart broken online is just as easy. So, just know that not everyone is as they seem, and that some have "unlovable characteristics" when up close and personal.
Which leads us to meeting.
There is not much point in a friendship which does not result in a meeting. Well there just isn't. However much fun it is to chat online, a meeting is the icing on the cake. And, to be fair, everyone wants to meet someone they like a lot.
So, how do we keep safe when we want to meet?
Golden Rules is how:
- Plan to meet in a busy public place in hours when there will be people present
- Arrive early and check out the people from a different position from the one where you agreed to meet.
- Move to your meeting place at the right time
- Be prepared to leave if you do not like the look of the person you meet, even without speaking to them, especially without speaking to them
- Have a friend with you, just to watch and protect you. Not together, apart.
- Instruct your friend that the Police should be called if they are in any way in doubt. Police prefer to waste their time in this way than to mop up a disaster
- Do not go somewhere private. The first meeting needs to be in a public place. Movies after a soda or coffee is ok, their apartment is not. Nor is yours.
- If in any way unsure, do not exchange personal data that can identify your address
- If you feel uncomfortable at any time during the meeting, leave promptly
- Notify someone who is NOT present where you are, how to contact you, and what your plans are
- Do not get in the other person's car, even if it's a minute drive. Ask to take public transportation, separate cars, or walk
- Find a way to keep in contact with someone not there at all times, whether it be a cell phone, laptop, or the presence of phone booths near by
- Only do things within your boundaries, don't let the person make decisions without your consent. That applies both ways
- Stay on alert, don't let your guard down at any point. You don't want to give the person an opportunity to surprise you with someting unwanted
- Have a friend call you on your cellphone about 10 minutes in to the meeting to give you a tactful chance to break away, and repeat the call if you give a codeword to do so. You can take this call: "I have to answer this. I arranged the call with my friend beforehand." is perfectly reasonable
- Meet at a place you know quite well. If not well known to you get there early to get acquainted with it. And if not appropriate, leave.
The Golden Rules can't protect you if you are stupid, and they are not a fail safe anyway. But they mean you are not going to be taken by surprise. And having a friend watch over you means you have security.
I've met a huge number of people in real life whom I met online first. I can say I have had no bad meetings. But that is just my good luck. I am as bad a judge of character as anyone, and online I've made a few bad mistakes. Online. Where it is totally safe to meet people because you never meet them except on your own terms.