The Internet can’t be all that bad. I mean, it does give us hilarious memes.
BUT interacting with people online can get weird – FAST. Even in real life, relationships and friendships can be confusing. So, when you’re talking to someone online, it can be especially hard to figure out what the other person is actually thinking.
Unfortunately, there’s no app that sends you – “NOPE!” – every time a conversation is getting risky. But by knowing some warning signs, safety rules, and what to do if you do feel uncomfortable, you can help protect yourself and your friends.
Here are 4 tips to keep in mind.
1. HAVE AN EXIT PLAN.
Make sure that your screen name is different from your real name. That way if you get into a conversation that’s making you uncomfortable then you can exit it without the fear of someone googling you. If you’re on apps like Snapchat, Vine or Instagram, avoid posting things that reveal where you are (like the name of your school, where your soccer team practices, etc). That way, if someone is being a creeper, you can block them without worry they can find you another way.
2. BE A LITTLE PARANOID.
If you send/post a picture, you can’t always control how it’s being seen—or how it’s being shared by others. If you feel like there’s any chance that the picture could get into the wrong hands, don’t risk it.
3. TELL SOMEONE!
If you are ever uncomfortable or think that you may be in danger, tell someone you trust! Maybe a teacher, a parent or a school counselor. It’s better to talk to someone about it right away, even if it’s a tough thing to talk about. Don’t wait until it becomes a bigger problem.
4. STAY IN THE SAFE ZONE.
Clearly, you wouldn’t walk down a dark alley alone at night – NOPE. Similarly, you should avoid creepy “dark” places online. You could stumble on something gross you don’t want to see or end up in a chatroom with people who are looking to take advantage of you. Follow your gut, and keep it in the safe zone.
Talking to people online can be confusing. How do you know when someone is a creep or just really friendly? Here are some red flags you can look for when talking to someone:
1. “Find me on Skype.” or “Let’s go private.”
Leaving the comments section or public thread and talking on a private messaging app gives people a chance to learn more personal information about you or to talk to you knowing that they’re safe from being “overheard.”
2. “Are you alone?”
Someone may be asking if you’re alone to send you content they wouldn’t want your parents or other people seeing or to get you to share more pictures or information. If someone you don’t know is specifically seeking out ways to talk to you in private, be extra careful. It’s okay to end a conversation or block a user that makes you feel uncomfortable.
3. “Do you have a pic?”
There are some pictures that seem harmless to share with someone you trust, but once you share a photo with someone, you can’t always control what they do with it or show they share it with. Pictures might also communicate more information that you intend to—for example, a photo of you and your friends at your volleyball tournament can tell someone where you go to school.
4. “You seem sad. Tell me what’s bothering you.”
We all enjoy having someone offer a listening ear. While it can be helpful for you to talk about what you’re going through, it also gives the other person a chance to learn about your thoughts and private life. It’s possible that the person is asking personal, seemingly caring questions to find out ways to take advantage.
5. “I know a way you can earn money fast.”
AHAHAHA – NOPE! Anyone offering you a way to make money fast should probably not be trusted, like ever. It’s a good idea to avoid getting caught up in dealing with money with someone you don’t know, especially if it includes sending photos of yourself or talking on a webcam, even if it sounds like what they’re asking you to do is no big deal.
6. “What’s your phone number?”
Not only does giving someone your phone number create an opportunity for them to build more trust and a false sense of intimacy, a phone number also reveals your location, and often times, even your home address.
7. “I love you.”
Everyone enjoys hearing the words “I love you,” but sometimes, people will use this to make it feel safe to do things that you might not otherwise do.
8. “If you don’t do what I ask, I’ll show everyone the pictures you’ve sent me.”
As someone learns more and more about you, they might threaten to reveal a private photo or tell your parents about something you’ve shared if you don’t do what they ask. Even if you’re afraid of what they might think, tell a parent, teacher, or another adult you trust right away if someone is trying to intimidate you. It’s better to put a stop to threats right away than to hope that they’ll stop after you just do this one thing.