Digital dating - looking for love online?

Lots of people feel braver online, so it's not surprising some use the internet to look for love. It can be easy to find single people you have things in common with, can talk to easily and flirt with. 

Getting together online is the new normal for many adults – did you know 1 in 3 marriages are between people who first met online?

And it may be similar for some young people. In 2018, our Digital Romance research found that one third of young people have started a relationship with someone they met online. Young people told us they fell in love with partners online too.

However, some told us that the person they met online turned out to not be who they said they were. Some found this out when they met up with the person in real life. This is obviously very worrying.

So, while meeting and chatting to new people online can be fun, it’s really important to do this safely.

Why can online dating be risky?

Some people, men and women, use the internet to look for sex and they may try to talk to young people.  They use sites and apps where they know young people go to look for love, to flirt or to find support.

Their aim is to try and  trick, pressure or force young people into doing sexual things, for example sending nude images or performing sexual acts on camera. This is a crime called a sexual offence against children.

They may lie about who they are and what they want. Someone may not be who they say they are even if you have seen them on camera.

It can be risky to swap intimate images, go on camera or agree to meet up with someone you have only met online. You’ll find practical advice on meeting up further down this article.

Chatting to someone online?

Most people are genuine, but here are some warning signs that someone may not have good intentions:

  • Too good to be true?

    Do they share all of your interests and give you lots of attention, or offer you gifts? Are things moving fast? We all like attention, but some people  will do everything they can to make you feel special, to the point where it can feel ‘too much’. If they ask you to do anything you’re not comfortable with you can always say no, seek help from an adult or contact CEOP.

  • Flattery.

    Do they constantly pay compliments about pictures on your profile, saying you’re fit or sexy? We know that some sexual offenders may try to gain the trust of young people with flattery. Sometimes it’s harder to think critically about someone if they’re saying such nice things.

  • Let’s talk about sex.

    Sexual offenders often try to get young people to talk about sex, sometimes quite quickly. Be cautious if someone is very flirty or tries to get you to talk about sex or do sexual things online. You don’t have to say or do anything you’re not comfortable with. If something has happened, it’s never too late to get help. Contact CEOP – a specialist child protection adviser will be able to support you.

  • Got any sexy pictures?

    Remember, if they ask you for nude  pictures or videos they are breaking the law. If someone is asking for nudes, or threatening to share pictures of you, report it to CEOP. You will be helped and will never be blamed for anything that has happened.

  • Our little secret?

    If someone asks you to keep your chat a secret from the adults or friends in your life, ask yourself why they might be asking you to do that? If they have your best interests at heart, there should be no problem with other people knowing. 

  • Mood swings

    Sexual offenders try to control young people by flattering them and giving lots of attention. If they don’t get what they want, they can suddenly become very nasty. Sometimes, they might act very sad and put pressure on a young person to ‘cheer them up’. Remember – no one should ever feel under pressure to do anything they don’t want to do.

  • "My camera's broken."

    Some offenders pretend to be a boy or a girl around your age and claim their camera is broken so you can’t see them. Never video chat with a stranger with a broken camera. Others have recorded and faked a video chat feed, using video footage of a person who is not them.

Steps to safer chat

If you chat to people online make sure you’re careful about the things you talk about and what you share with them.

  1. Keep your private stuff private. 

    Don’t share personal information like your phone number, address or school with someone you’ve only met online. If you’re not sure about whether to share information with someone ask yourself, what do they need it for? Always check with an adult before sharing personal information.

  2. Are they really a 'friend of a friend'?

    You might meet someone online not through a dating site, but through another app where you connect as you have friends in common, or it might be a ‘shout out’ on Snapchat, or through a game.

    If they’re a ‘friend of a friend’, ask your friend if they’ve met them in person.

  3. Location location

    Lots of popular dating sites (as well as other apps)  enable you to share your location or chat to people in your area. It is never a good idea to share your location on an app, especially if you’re talking to people who you don’t know.

Meeting up

If you’ve met someone online and have started a relationship with them, you’re probably feeling really excited and happy.

Meeting up with someone you’ve met online is always risky. If you do decide to meet them, it is really important to follow these simple safety guidelines: 

  • Tell the person that you want to meet in a public place and that you’re bringing an adult with you. If someone’s genuine they won’t have a problem with you wanting to make sure you’re safe.
  • Always meet and stay in a busy public place.
  • Take a trusted, responsible adult with you, not a friend. If the person you’re meeting with isn’t being honest, taking a friend will put you both at risk.
  • Make sure another family member or trusted adult knows who you are meeting, where you are going and when you’ll be back.
  • If your instincts tell you something is wrong, it probably is. If the person you meet doesn’t look like the person you’ve been talking to, leave as soon as possible.
  • Don’t get in a car or vehicle with the person you’re meeting.
  • Stay sober.
  • Take your phone, and keep it switched on.
  • Don’t leave your personal belongings unattended.

If you're worried about your safety, or think you're in danger you should call 999

Are you worried about someone you’ve met online?

Have you met someone online and you’re not sure they’re who they say they are?

Have you started an online relationship and they’re trying to take things further, and making you feel uncomfortable?

Is someone you met online showing you porn, asking you to send them naked pictures or do sexual stuff on video?

Is someone pressuring you to meet up with them?

If you’re worried you should tell an adult you trust, like a parent, carer, teacher or youth worker. You can also get help from CEOP.

CEOP

CEOP helps young people who are worried about sexual abuse online.

If you’ve met someone online, or face to face, and they are putting you under pressure to have sex or making you feel uncomfortable you should report to CEOP.

This might be someone:

  • Chatting about sex online or asking you for sexual pictures
  • Making you have sex when you donʼt want to or making you do sexual things online
  • Asking you to meet up face to face if youʼve only met them online
  • Making you feel worried, anxious or unsafe

If this is happening to you, or you’re worried that it might be, report to CEOP.

Childline

Childline is a free helpline for children and young people. You can contact Childline about anything. No problem is too big or too small. Whatever your worry, it's better out than in.

Childline is a private and confidential service. Confidential means not telling anyone else what you’ve said. This means that whatever you say stays between you and Childline.

They would only need to tell someone else if:

  • You ask them to
  • They believe your life or someone else’s life is in immediate danger
  • You are being hurt by someone in a position of trust who has access to other children like a teacher or police officer
  • You tell them that you are seriously harming another young person

Call them on 0800 1111. The number won’t appear on your phone bill.

You can also visit www.childline.org.uk to speak to a counsellor online.