Many people have formed strong friendships from online connections, many have met their partners online and even gotten married to people they met on social media or dating sites like Tinder, Grindr or Bumble.
It is no longer taboo to say you met a friend or partner online, evidenced by the cute and viral hashtag #WeMetOnTwitter which celebrates marriages, relationships, friendships and even business partnerships that began on Twitter.
However, taking an online relationship offline i.e. meeting the person for the first time can often pose a security risk. This is especially so for women, people living with disabilities, queer people and other groups who are vulnerable. It is important to make personal security a priority when having a “blind date”. I say blind date because of the popular social media phenomenon 'catfishing'.
Catfishing happens where a person creates a deceptive social networking presence, or fake identity on a social network account, to trick people into thinking they are somebody else. So, even if you have seen several photographs or videos of a person on their social media profile, it is not a 100% assurance that they are who they say they are.
Most people have an extensive social media presence that you can use to validate their identity. If all the social media platforms a person is using are new, that’s a red flag. They just may be fake accounts.
Check for mutual friends, use a search engine like google to search their full names for any public information about them. Use the Google reverse image search tool to look up their images. If the photos they shared with you are the same with profiles of people with a different name, then something fishy is definitely going on.
Ask them questions if things seem unclear; call out inconsistencies in their information and see how they react. If your research and instincts tell you that a person is not who they claim to be, you should probably trust that.
Request for a video call using any of the several platforms with video call features like Instagram, WhatsApp, Skype, Facetime, Google Duo. Make sure that the person is in a lit-up environment. A video call where you can’t see the person because there’s 'no light' or it’s late at night is pointless.
If the other person refuses or keeps making excuses not to video call, it’s a pretty good sign that they’re being deceptive. It’s better to request a video call as early as is possible and polite, so you don’t waste your time and energy getting to know a fake persona.
As exciting as it can be to meet someone who you connect with online, you mustn’t ditch common sense Keep your private information private. Do not divulge information like your home or work address, debit card details, or BVN.
Avoid sending compromising photographs or nudes with them. Once you have sent such an image to them, it is entirely out of your control and can be passed on to others, either deliberately or accidentally. Even after you have met multiple times, and you’re sure you can trust them, carefully guard private information that can lead to dire consequences if leaked.
Ideal places are malls, cinemas, restaurants or fast food joints. It’s not a good idea to meet at their place, or their friend’s place, or a hotel. Decide on a meetup spot before the day of the meeting; don’t agree to meet at a bus stop or a landmark and proceed from there.
Make sure to let a friend or relative know where you’re headed, with the full address, phone number and name of the person you’re meeting. Use features like Google Maps’ and WhatsApp’s share live location to let your friends or relatives know where you are at every moment. If possible, suggest a group date where you both bring a friend along. Be conscious and alert of your environment always.
If you notice any person or vehicle stalking you, scream for help. Never leave your food or drink unattended while on the date. If you must excuse yourself, do not come back to the meal or drink.
It is important to always prioritize your security during social interactions. Look out for red flags, trust your guts, and stay cautious. Happy dating!
Do you have any other safety tips you would like to share? Drop them in the comment section. Who knows, someone might learn from what you have to say.