Things are changing so rapidly across the globe with the pandemic that the shape of society and how we connect with each other is now in the main virtual. So the question I am pondering on right now:
How do you meet new people and make friends online safely?
In the days before the internet explosion and social media people met face to face in real life situations like catching a bus together and striking up banter, or casually asking someone out that you met at a party, or whilst jogging around the local park. Not to say these things don’t happen anymore but they are less frequent and there are less people out and about now due to Covid restrictions.
Social media has really come into its own and become a place of connection for the young and old. Its been a primary way of communicating when under lock-down and provided a platform for users to share their lives online. However this has not been without its own problems. With some online users over sharing, others cat-fishing (a catfish is a person who creates fake profiles on social media accounts using someone else’s information) and internet trolls who act as predators. There are alarming numbers of cases where people have been dishonest about who they really are using fake names, ages and profile photos. Its enough to make you mistrust the internet for life. Also sexting has increased and child sexual exploitation is on the rise with online apps being used to share intimate selfies of body parts.
So despite all the advantages of online connection how do you navigate your way through to safe and healthy connections to build friendships and relationships? It comes back to trust and being internet savvy. Ideally once you have started to talk to someone online you get to know them offline as well by meeting in person but only once you feel you know enough about them and maybe take another person along to the meeting with you. It is too easy to hide behind a keyboard and lie about things and those types will be less likely to agree to a physical meeting.
If however you are communicating with somebody located far away you can still carry out background checks on them. People often hide details about themselves when starting off in romantic relationships and in order to keep yourself safe its advisable to take a few precautions. Learning more about your prospective or existing online partner’s background is your choice. Always go with you gut — if something feels off then act before things get too serious.
How To Find Information
Use google to research them online. Don’t just do a name search. Try searching:
- Their email address
- Their mobile number
- Key phrases like their full name followed by the word debt, girlfriend/ boyfriend, jobs, CV or Resume, criminal record, school, university, family members, images.
You will be surprised by what might come up on a search like this. A caveat to this is to use your own judgement and be cautious about believing everything you read online. Try to separate fact from fiction as many people can be unjustly slandered online. Make sure you only take into account the accurate facts.
Run a reverse image search
It might be worth carrying this out first before trawling the internet for more information. Run a reverse image search on any images they have sent to you, including their profile picture on any dating profiles and their email account. If they are fake you will see stock photos or profile images from someone else’s account, a Google image search will show any other places the photo has been published. This will be a good indicator to check if you are being or have been cat-fished.
How to do a reverse image search:
- Save a copy of their photo to your PC /computer
- Go to images.google.com
- Click the “upload an image” tab
- Then you can click through the search results to see where else the image has been posted online, also check the “visually similar images” bit at the bottom of that search page. Hey presto any fake profile pics will become evident.
If their profile photo appears on some other random person’s timeline on Instagram, or Facebook then suspect that something’s not right.
Search social media profiles
Run a check through the most common online social media apps and sites (Snapchat, Tiktok, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest). If you cant find the person you can use their surname and locate a relative and go via that route and check their posts, photos and see if they match what the person is telling you about themselves. Just make sure they are correctly connected.
Most professionals are on linked in if they claim to be employed by a company or mention work/study information you can look them up on Linkedin and check their profile. You can pick up several tidbits of information like the d.o.b from dates attending school or starting work, clarify professions, and check geographical locations match what they share with you. Another pointer is credibility so check if their profiles have been ‘endorsed’ by peers and for what skills.
Just remember when online do not trust everything that anyone says until you can verify it for yourself. Or at least take it with a pinch of salt. Meeting new people online can be a daunting experience but its best be safe than sorry with the amount of internet scammers out there. Also do not share intimate details about yourself too quickly once the information / photo’s are out there in cyberspace it’s hard to recall. Not everyone has your best interests at heart and not everyone is who they say they are. That is a sad fact of life in this technological era that we are living in.
Not too long ago I had someone pretend they were royalty from an Arab family claiming to live in Saudi Arabia — when I looked them up online and obtained a phone number it connected to Seattle in the USA. Cat-fish! Suffice to say I blocked and deleted him. The point is sometimes they find you and other times you accidentally stumble across them, the outcome is determined by how you respond and react. Be safe out there and always check who you are connecting with :)