The internet is a wonderful tool for connecting people, regardless of where they physically live in the world. I have made friends and met partners online. I've also received many emails over the years from a very diverse and interesting number of people since starting this website, my life enriched by the opportunities the internet provides.
There are a lot of scary headlines about adults using the internet to lure children into meeting up, and first date horror stories where people turn out to be anything but what they claimed. But the internet isn’t crawling with paedophiles and dishonest people; most people want to enjoy using technology to make new friends and learn new things. With the tips below and some common sense you are more likely to establish genuine, meaningful friendships online and skip the time-wasters and weirdos.
- When chatting on the internet to people you don’t know, never give out information that identifies where you live or allows you to be contacted offline. Don’t give out your home address, home phone number, mobile number, the name of your school or place of work etc.
- I recommend that you do not post your email address or Skype (or other messaging service) username directly into a forum or chat room. Not only can anybody then contact you - friend and stranger alike - but your email address may also be harvested for junk email purposes. If you want to swap email addresses and Skype details with new friends it's better to use PMs (private messages) on forums or private chat in chat rooms.
- People are not always what they appear to be on the internet. To be confident that the person you are getting to know is genuine, first spend time chatting online or by email. Build some trust before you speak on the phone or meet in person.
- Don't be pressured into meeting. If you don't feel ready or comfortable, wait a while. If someone you're chatting to online seems pushy then there's good reason to be cautious. A genuine person interested in friendship will be happy to wait until you feel comfortable enough to meet. Generally speaking, a person who pushes for a quick meet - often on the day you start chatting - is likely only looking for sex. If this isn't what you want, you may be chatting to the wrong person.
- When meeting internet friends for the first time, always remember to meet in a public place where there are sure to be other people around. Preferably meet during the daytime, in a place you are familiar with and feel comfortable. Tell a friend or family member that you are meeting someone for the first time and let them know where you are going and what time you expect to be home. They can keep an eye on the time and check up on you should you be late. Take a mobile phone with you so you can be contacted easily. If you are having a great time and want to stay out longer, let a friend or family member know so they don’t worry.
- Never go back to the home of someone you have just met. You may think they seem nice and can be trusted, but you can't always be sure of a person's qualities straight away. Don't risk getting into a situation that's awkward or even difficult to get out of. If casual sex meetings aren't what you are looking for, avoid people who insist on the first date being at their home.
- If you have a webcam it can be very tempting to hurriedly link up with a new internet friend. But first, make sure you are not revealing details about where you live, such as a notice board on the wall with contact information, and be as sure as you can be about the person on the other end of the video-feed. You can save yourself some nasty shocks and blushing cheeks if you exercise some caution in the first place.
- Use your instincts. It's okay to be cautious if something doesn't feel right. Likewise, if you're having a great time and getting on well, embrace it and let it flourish. Don't be paranoid or assume everyone has a hidden agenda. You'll work out as you get to know someone if they are genuine and whether it's friendship, romance or just sex they're looking for.