Making Friends Online
Making friends online can be exciting and allow you to meet like-minded people from the comfort of our own home. People often use social networks, online chatrooms, and games to meet their “tribe”, i.e people with whom you feel like you can be yourself and belong to. This can be very helpful for young people who feel limited by who they can be friends within their own locality, who may not have the same interests, feelings or traits. Getting to know someone online can sometimes seem easier than meeting people in real life, your new friend(s) is always there for you when you need them, communicating daily can help build up an idea of what this person is like but this is not always accurate.
Talking to someone through technology leaves out a lot of aspects that help us make friends in real life such as their mood or temperament in real time, and non-verbal cues like how they act, speak and their facial expressions. Meeting people who are different from us is also important for self-growth and openmindedness. You may feel like you have met someone who has the same interests as you, or shares your opinions but how do know they have been telling the truth? Even when you have gathered a lot of information about someone and think you know them, you are still just making an assumption of who the person is. You may know where they live, what their pets names are, and all about their family but anyone you have only met online is still a stranger.
There are many people online who are also looking for their “tribe”, but there are also people with less than honourable intentions. There are people who do not have your best interests at heart, who may use your attention and time negatively in order to satisfy their own needs. There are people online who use friendships to take advantage of people. There are also online predators who seek to exploit or coerce people online using friendship as a way to gain information that they then use against you.
Always be cautious of making friends online and think carefully about what you share with people you do not know.
9 Things to Consider when Connecting with New Friends Online:
- You may connect with someone in a forum, game or on a social network. Before engaging in direct messaging or adding them on other platforms, ask yourself- can you be sure this person is who they say they are? Use our guide to catfishing here.
- Be aware of your online presence—think about how your online profile makes you appear to others.
- Put your safety first—don’t share your location or meet up with someone you have only met online.
- Try not to accept friend requests from people you do not know, or make sure someone you know has met them face-to-face.
- A friend of a friend?—it’s easy to post fake photos or stream a fake video, ask your friend if they have met them in person.
- Don’t believe everything that someone tells you- people try to present themselves in the best light when they are allowed to control how much information to give out. They may not give an accurate representation of themselves- they may leave out important information, or use someone else’s information that they think you will like better. Don’t be afraid to question things and be on the look out for inconsistencies.
- No regrets—remember that anything you send to someone, post online or do over a webcam can be saved/recorded without your knowledge.
- If an online friend pressures you or starts to make you feel uncomfortable look for help. You are not alone. Look for an adult that you trust, or for your friends’ support.
- If you are being exploited or coerced – Stop the communication. Block the person. Deactivate, don’t delete the account as this evidence will help the Gardaí.
Precautions for Meeting an Online Friend:
Tell an adult you trust what you are doing, where you are going and what time you will be back. If your plans change, make sure you update them.
Always choose a location that is in public- a shopping centre or busy restaurant. Ask a friend to come with you or invite your new friend to a group outing. Your friends will look out for you and will provide you with an excuse to leave if the meeting does not go well or if you feel uncomfortable.
Make sure you do not share your location with them using apps like Snapmap or WhatsApp geolocation. If you do, make sure you turn them off after you meet them.
Meeting someone online can be jarring and not what you expect. Prepare yourself for the fact that your friend may not be who they say they are, or you might not feel the same way about them offline.
Secret meetups are never a good idea and may be a sign of more sinister motives. If you have to hide the relationship then perhaps it is worthwhile looking at the reasons why before entering into it.