The internet is as safe as you make it. As safe as real life, often safer. What it is not, is private.
Many people online make long friendships. Often they meet, usually in total safety. We hear, though, about meetings that end in tragedy. And the news nowadays carries "and the child's computer was searched in case they had met someone in a chat room" in news items when a child has gone missing or is found dead.
Yet the internet contains the same proportion of good and normal people as does what people like to call "real life". And most people choose never to meet face to face. Frankly, this is hardly surprising. A chat buddy in Australia is unlikely to meet their German friend unless either can afford a serious vacation.
But, some people plan to meet, do meet, and enjoy hospitality from others that they meet while emailing or chatting. They do it well, with care and with safety.
Not really difficult. The safety rules are dead easy, and are a matter of simple common sense.
- Never meet anyone if even the smallest thing about them makes you uneasy in any way
- Never meet at their home, or a borrowed apartment
- Always plan to meet in a crowded public place. You can walk away unknown if you do not like what you see
- Always have a trusted friend know where you are going and when you will be back
- Ideally have the trusted friend with you, but a little away so that you are not obviously together
- Make your friend promise to call the authorities without hesitating if you are late to arrive at a rendezvous after your meeting
- If meeting for romance, please, please do not "kiss on a first date". This involves privacy and the potential for danger
- Always be aware that the internet presents people as they wish to be seen. That gorgeous, young, slim, blond may be a predatory person hunting in a pack of unpleasant people.
- Realise that people lie. Of course you never do that! But they do.
- Some people want to meet others for sex. That's OK, unless one party is not aware of that when making arrangements
- Don’t send personal pictures via the net
- Don't use anything that can identify the real you on emails, messageboards or chats
- If someone says they go to a certain school, ask which subjects they do, what (and who) their teachers are, and then find the school's website and ensure consistency
The one problem you will have is in determining who tells the truth and who lies. People use the internet to groom unsuspecting people to meet their own sexual needs. If you think about it that isn't surprising. Provided sexual activities are kept to cyber sex that is "ok". Not perfect, but "ok". It's when that steps across the boundary into face to face meetings that trouble starts.
Let's assume you are young. Let's assume that you are below the age of consent for any sexual activity. It doesn't matter whether you wish to consent, let's assume you are in a position where you are judged by law to be incapable of giving than consent. What you may not understand fully is that there are older people, usually but not always men, who will find you highly desirable, even without seeing you, just because of your age. The younger you are the more unpleasant this is.
There are very few young people who desire an older person sexually or romantically. If you are one of them, as long as your eyes are wide open, this is fine. It isn't abnormal, just unusual. But this section on Personal Safety applies to you just as much as to someone who would hate the attentions of an older person.
How do I tell if the cute guy (or gal) I am talking to is a dirty old man (woman)?
It's damnably hard to tell. Clues (but do note that a clever predator knows how to fake all this):
- Language choice - more complex or different sentence structures than a "kid" would choose. I guess you can tell that I am older, for example.
- Vocabulary - wider than you would expect
- Pushiness - "Let's meet, let's meet, let's meet", or "Where do you live?" in far too direct a way
- Lack of knowledge of musicians or bands your age group knows well
- Picture sent of "them" seems "too good to be true". Too cute, too appealing, or just maybe too explicit
- Offers to pay your fare, or buy you a meal, or offer accomodation
- Seems to care and somehow rings false, or gets impatient, or creates an odd feeling of unease
Some of the rest is difficult, though. A truly caring older person and a clever predator can look exactly the same. Each will not pressure you to do anything. Each will care about you. Each will be safe to talk to online. That is "at first". But each is different. One means to "have you" and the other is a friend. It's when and if you arrange to meet that the difference becomes clear.
Bottom line: I cannot tell you how to distinguish between the predator and the friend. But I can suggest that any lies tend to mean that the person is a predator, not a friend.