You need to remember the person you are talking to may not be the person you think they are. They could be lying to you about their age, name, occupation or gender, or they may try to seem like a friend when in fact they are trying to take advantage of you. Spending time online and using social media can be wonderful ways to keep in touch with friends and to express yourself, but you do need to be careful.
Sharing personal details such as your telephone number, address, full name, birthday, or pictures can make you vulnerable to people taking advantage of you online, as it’s not only your friends and family who can see them, but also a whole variety of strangers. Only sharing personal information with people you know and trust can be a good way to keep yourself safe. Make sure you familiarise yourself with the various privacy settings on social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram and consider how to use them best.
Some people can be very forward and disinhibited online, and may ask you to do things you are not comfortable with like sending revealing pictures of yourself or your friends, or participating in sexually-charged chat or video sessions. Please mind that this is illegal (and classed as child pornography) if you are under 18, even if the person you are sending them to is (or claims to be) your age. Even if you are 18 or over, please be aware that once you’ve sent out a picture to someone or posted it publicly, you lose all control over who could see it or how it could be used.
If you have concerns about anyone you are talking to online, report them to the site/platform you are using. If someone asks you to do anything sexual or things you feel uncomfortable with and you are underage, you should inform CEOP immediately. CEOP is the Child Exploitation Online Protection Agency, it is set up by the government and is manned by specialist police officers and social workers to ensure young people’s safety. Click here to log a report.
If you would like more information on how to stay safe online, further support is available at ThinkUKnow
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If you decide to meet the friends you’ve made online in person, here are a few tips to make the encounter as safe as possible:
- Always remember that the person you have been talking to may not have been telling you the truth about who they are
- Tell your parents or a trusted adult where you’re going, who you are meeting, and when
- Ask the person you are meeting to send you a picture of them with your name and today’s date written on a piece of paper
- Take a friend with you
- Ask a trusted adult to ring you at pre-determined times to make sure you are still safe. Ensure your mobile is fully charged and that your GPS is on
- Meet in a public place and don’t go anywhere alone