We are living in an era defined by technology and connectivity. The internet has broken down the barriers of time and space to bring people together across the world while providing immediate access to information with the touch of a button. Social networking apps have become the new normal when searching for friends, love, and even business opportunities, but with these amazing advancements come the potential risks of interacting with strangers online.
A study conducted by the global research agency OpinionMatters stated that 53% of US participants lied on their online profiles. While this is often as trivial as adding a few more inches to their height or embellishing their occupation, it can also involve fake names and photos to ensnare unsuspecting people for nefarious purposes. Catfishing, the colloquial term for the “deceptive activity in which a person creates a fictional persona or fake identity on a social networking service, usually targeting a specific victim,” is a very common occurrence across apps where anonymity is virtually guaranteed. With the threat of catfishing always lurking in the background, it can make it even harder to tell if you are making real connections with authentic people. Unfortunately, there is an even darker side to the internet that we must be prepared for.
In 2016, President Barack Obama proclaimed January to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month. He stated that “that millions of men, women, and children around the globe, including here at home, are subject to modern-day slavery: the cruel, inhumane practice of human trafficking. This month, we rededicate ourselves to assisting victims of human trafficking and to combating it in all its forms.” Modern-day slavery remains a prevalent issue, an ugly aspect of society that demands our attention as consumers and citizens.
Between 2015 and 2018, almost 1,000 potential trafficking victims were recruited using online platforms, including dating apps. Traffickers often pose as ‘saviors’, offering jobs, financial aid, and wish fulfillment to lure their victims, though some may resort to force and coercion. It is important for everyone to practice safety when navigating the real-life metaverse, and we have compiled a few tips to keep in mind as you continue to explore the world and interact with new people.
One of the most overlooked tools in your arsenal is your instincts. If something feels off, trust that gut instinct. Look out for profiles that look overly curated with professional photos, or profiles that don’t employ any photos at all. Both could be signs that the individual is not presenting their honest self by hiding behind non-existent or stolen images. The people we surround ourselves with are good indicators of our own values and personality, making recently created profiles with few friends, followers, or engagements another red flag to watch for.
Now, let’s say you have matched with a potential romantic partner or a new friend and you are ready to meet them in person. The individual who shows up actually matches the pictures on their profile – hey, we’re off to a great start! Keep the good times rolling by keeping yourself safe and taking a few simple precautions.
First Meet-Up Safety Checklist
Keep someone in the loop. Whether this is a good friend or family member, let someone know where you will be and for how long.
Use your own transportation. While it may seem chivalrous for your date to pick you up and drop you off at home, until you get to know and trust them, employ your own transportation to and from get-togethers. This will keep people from knowing where you live and ensure you are free to leave when you want.
Meet in a public place. Lots of witnesses may not help things in the romance department, but it ensures that there are potential eyewitness accounts for your whereabouts.
Do not leave your food or drink unattended. A good rule of thumb is never to drink anything that you have not opened yourself or seen the bartender pour. It is estimated that over 80% of rape cases are date rape, where a perpetrator may slip common date rape drugs into alcoholic beverages in order to subdue a victim.
Do not give out your personal information. Getting to know someone means getting vulnerable and sharing things about yourself. You are the best judge of what information you feel comfortable sharing, so listen to your instincts, and keep your private information private.
Creating a safe environment is always our top priority here at Offleash’d. We employ a multi-factor verification system and adhere to a strict harassment policy via user reports. With these measures in place, we aim to create a safe online community where people can make deeper connections with authentic individuals.
Even with advanced safety protocols in place across social networking apps, it is not the end-all solution. Human trafficking remains a real problem, and it occurs more frequently than expected. If you or someone you know is at risk or potentially in danger of trafficking, we encourage you to contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline. For those looking to support the cause in any way they can, Bustle.com has curated a list of organizations that are working to fight against Human Trafficking and support survivors.