"I like this boy but I've never met him.."
The Internet and social media are changing the way we do so many everyday things. If you want to know more about a topic, you Google it! If you want music, you download it. If you want to keep in touch with your friends, you Facebook them.
The more comfortable we become online (and the more data we can get our hands on), the more we live our lives online… even our love lives. But online dating, online chatting and even innocent flirting online is a minefield of potential dangers. So how do you stay safe and protect yourself?
So you and this new boy have been flirting up a storm in Facebook chat for a couple of weeks. You really like him! You told him all about your school, and the netball game you have on Friday. He might even come watch you. What’s to worry about?
Well, the amazing thing about the Internet, is that you can be whoever you say you are. So if you’re a creepy older guy who likes preying on young girls, you can say you are Siya, 15 years old, and stick up a picture you got off Google, and how is anyone to know the difference?
Even if he's not a child molester, he could be a fraudster. Some people create fake profiles for themselves in order to get you know you better, and ultimately either steal your ID or personal information, or use your info to scam someone else. If I sound like I'm talking nonsense, or writing the plot of a movie, think again. This is a real threat!
I am not telling you to put the brakes on your flourishing digital romance, just be smart about it choma. Here are some dos and don’ts for online dating:
Don't send him naked pictures of yourself. Yoh, that escalated quickly! He wants to see what you look like, then he wants more, then your flirting goes to a whole new level, and he says "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours.." But stop right there. There are two things to consider here. Firstly, if you are under 18 or the pictures shared are of someone under 18, you can be arrested and tried in court for distributing child pornography. Yes, really! Even if yo'’re not, what happens when the relationship ends and he has a digital photo of you with nothing on that he can send to whoever he wants? It is such a common thing that it’s even got a name – revenge porn.
Do find out more about his real world life. If you like him, and he has nothing to hide, he won't be reluctant to share details about his real world. And there will be pictures of him with other people on his Facebook profile. A profile that is only full of pics of him on his own, means he is either completely full of himself - ego alert! - or he's possibly trying to hide something. This is a big warning sign that it might be a fake online identity.
And, lastly, if you decide you want to take your relationship to the next, real world stage and meet, then you have to be extra smart. Do tell someone - your mom, your sister, your friend - where you are going and why. Better yet, go with someone. Tell him to bring along a friend too, and the four of you can meet for lunch. If he's legit and he likes you as much as he says he does, there's no reason for him to object to this plan. Have fun and be safe!
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