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Lots of people now start relationships online. You might meet someone on Instagram, Twitter or in the comments section and then decide to keep chatting privately. Or you could meet someone on a dating app. Here's some things to keep in mind if you're chatting online.
Are they who they say are?
It can be really easy to pretend to be someone else online. This can happen through using someone else's photos, saying they are a different age, or pretending they live somewhere else. This is what is known as catfishing. Some catfishes do so to get money from people - they will start to talk to someone and develop a romantic relationship before asking for money for something. Others might pretend to be someone else because they feel insecure about how they look or their personality. Others might do it to get nude photographs of people and may go on to threaten to share them unless they are paid money.
Sometimes people spend time developing relationships with children or young people, to make it seem as if they care about them, or to make them feel grown up or good about themselves. This is called ‘grooming’. Groomers can be very skilled at making you feel special or grown up, and they can make you trust them more than other adults in your life. Find out more about grooming.
If you're concerned that someone isn't who they say they are, you can use tools like Google image search to see if the picture of the person you're talking to matches up to other online profiles. Simply save the image, go to Google Images and drag and drop the photo into the search box. Then you can see if they are using their own picture or if they've stolen it from someone else.
It can also be a sign that someone isn't who they say they are if they refuse to speak to you on the phone or through voice notes or if they always have an excuse not to video chat with you. Remember: you shouldn't meet up with someone you have only spoken to online by yourself in a private place. Meet in a public place - such as a train station or town centre, be wary of going anywhere alone with them on the first meeting, let someone know where you're going and who you are meeting, and keep your phone on you, fully charged. To be extra safe, either bring a friend or trusted adult with you.
Keep your information safe
It's always good to be cautious when talking to someone online. Don't reveal personal information like your date of birth, your address or where you go to school or your workplace if you're chatting to someone you haven't met.
Be aware of what information is already out there on the internet and what people could use to try and start a relationship with you under false pretences. This could include stuff like photos of you in your school uniform; online quizzes that ask for things like eye colour, your first pets name, etc; and even personal blogs/private Instagram accounts and the content on there.
Make sure passwords are up to date and changed regularly and having two factor authentication on is useful too. This is when you can get a code sent to your phone whenever you log in somewhere and makes your accounts a little more safe from hackers.
You can learn more about online safety on our Digi Know? page.
Know what isn't OK
If someone is constantly messaging you and expecting a reply right away (no matter what time of day, and even messaging you on different social media platforms); or they are pressuring you into sending sexual pictures (of you in your underwear, doing certain things, or nude); or makes you do or say anything you don't want to or feel comfortable doing then that is not okay.
Read some of the That's Not OK scenarios to see what behaviours aren't okay and where to get support if you're experiencing them.
There are also unfortunately some people that may try to scam you online, some things to look out for are:
- Someone moving too quickly - moving too quickly might be a sign something isn't right, for example, if someone says they love you very quickly. Use your instincts and something doesn't feel right it probably isn't.
- Requests for money - sometimes scammers will create stories to make you feel sorry for them so you send them money. Any requests for money should ring alarm bells, you can find out more how to report or block profiles later in this article.
- Odd behaviour - whether it's stories that don't sound true or vague responses to questions you're asking, your instincts will be really important. If someone is acting inappropriately, you can report them on the platform (find out more below).
If you've ever been scammed or feel like you've been tricked by someone online, it's never your fault. Speak to someone you trust or reach out to an organisation for help.
Remember social media isn't real life
You might see pictures of other relationships online and feel bad that yours isn't like that. It's important to keep in mind that when it comes to social media, people only post what they want others to see, which is often only the good bits. Arguments happen, disagreements happen, and you won't see those things being posted online. Every relationship isn't as picture-perfect as the #CoupleGoals pictures might make it seem. Therefore, it's not good to compare your relationship to something that isn't fully true. Find out more about what a healthy relationship involves.
Know how to report
If someone is harassing you, you can use different tools to help you out. You can either block them, or if they keep trying to contact you, make you feel scared or upset, or you feel threatened, you can report them to the platform you are using:
If you are under 18 and you have seen that an indecent image of yourself has been shared without your permission you can report it through Childline.
If you are under 18 and have experienced any sort of sexual harassment online you can report it through the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command.
If you're over 18 and using a dating app you can report them on those websites too:
If you are over 18 you can also report any harmful content you've seen on any website or social media platform here.
If someone threatens or publishes private photographs, find out how to report it and get them taken down.
Where can I get help and support?
If you ever experience any issues online there are lots of places that you can get support and help. It's really important to remember, that it's not your fault and no one will blame you. Find out where to get support.
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Visit the That's Not OK campaign page for more information.