The internet has enabled us to make friends with people we don’t know and may never meet in real life. For instance, Facebook has allowed us to create and maintain ‘friendships’ with more people than ever. These relationships may not always be adding value to our lives and, instead, may be sources of anxiety. It’s important to regularly assess your contacts on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see if they need to be adjusted. Some may be more casual acquaintances, while others may be people who would support you if you were in need. Not all ‘friends’ need to be party to all of your discussions, and privacy settings can be applied to enable you to have more intimate discussions with only a few good friends.
While it can be a lot of fun speaking to new people, especially if we are lacking social connection, there are also dangers associated with starting online relationships. It’s important to stay safe online, as not everyone you meet online (e.g. in a chatroom, forum, or on other social media channels) may be telling the truth and they may not always be who they say they are.
Here are some tips for staying safe online:
- Don’t give out your real name unless you’ve been able to confirm who the individual is.
- Don’t give someone online personal details (e.g. where you work or go to school, your address, or telephone number).
- Meet an online acquaintance in a public place. If you’re a young person, you might want to meet them with one of your parents or another adult you trust. If you are older, you may want to bring a friend, carer, or support worker along with you. If the person is genuinely who they say they are, they will be happy to accommodate this.
- Don’t share your online passwords. Keep them in a safe place that other people won’t be easily able to find.
- If someone online is making inappropriate suggestions to you or makes you feel uncomfortable, or you are unsure whether to share certain personal information, you can contact the police by phoning 999, the Adult Protection Phone Line on 01383 602200 or Bullying UK’s helpline on 0808 800 2222.