Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) released “Online Safety Guide, Safe Use of Social Media” which offers guidance on the risks one might face online, and some advice on how to stay secure & responsible and maintain a positive digital footprint.
Anything that is uploaded and shared online such as a photo, video, or text is content. While a lot of content online is positive in nature, there is a plethora of content that can cause distress or emotional harm.
Online spaces are being used by predators and other bad actors to accelerate illegal and harmful activity in an unprecedented way. There is a chance that you might meet people online that aren’t who they say they are. Grooming is a word to describe the tactics abusers use via the internet to sexually exploit and manipulate young people and children.
How Does Online Grooming Happen
- Young people can sometimes end up trusting abusers whose real identities they may not know
- Online groomers may pretend to be someone else online
Groomers use social media platforms popular with young people and pretend to be one of them. They select their victim based on perceived vulnerability and attempt to befriend them by pretending to share similar hobbies or interests, using someone else’s pictures, offering gifts or followers, and sharing “secrets”.
- Building trust between themselves and their victim
Once the groomer gains the victim’s trust, they may ask for explicit pictures or videos from the young person. They will try to emotionally blackmail the victim and threaten to block them if they say no to such requests. The victim may feel helpless and end up sharing intimate pictures – which can be used for extortion later by the groomer.
- The groomer can be someone you already know
Online groomers may be somebody the victim has already met through their family or through the social circle. They will further use the internet to build a relationship with their victim. Groomers can pretend to be charismatic, kind, and occasionally helpful and young people may not realize that they are being groomed
Where Can Online Grooming Happen?
Online predators will target children and young adults on platforms and apps that young people are most likely to use (including job forums and gaming sites). They may also appear to be the same age as their victim. The predator will often start a friendly conversation or offer advice to gain the victim’s trust before asking them for their phone number to chat privately.
The person contacting you online could be a stranger or someone you already know or have met. They can be someone who is older or close to your age. Predators will also lie about their gender, where they live, and their actual motivations.
Here are some warning signs:
- You feel uncomfortable— predators will test boundaries and ask intrusive questions from their victims.
- Trust your instincts. They tell you their webcam or video app is not working — the online groomer might pretend to be someone else. They say that their webcam or video app is not working so you cannot see what they really look like.
- They make inappropriate comments about your appearance or body— and ask for personal pictures of you or those of your family members/friends. Be careful of anyone online who gives lots of compliments for no reason.
- They contact you multiple times and in different ways — for example, you meet them on Reddit then they ask for your phone number and start direct messaging you.
- They insist on a meeting — they might say they want to see you in person and will act angry/distant or call you a “bad” friend if you don’t agree.
- They want to keep it private — people who want to harm you do not want other people to know about them. They may ask you to only contact them when you are alone.
- They ask you for favors/money etc. — Once trust has been established, the groomer might ask the victim for money or other favors. They will make false claims and promises about their relationship with the victim to get what they want.
How to Protect Yourself from Unwanted Contact
- Make your accounts private
By adjusting your privacy settings, you can stay in control of who sees what you post online and who can contact you directly
- Delete contacts
Go through your social media friends and followers list. Check if you actually know them. Delete contacts that look suspicious or have not posted in a while.
- Screenshot evidence
Take screenshots of messages, pictures, phone numbers, etc. that make you uncomfortable.
- Report and block
Once you have all your screenshots, report the person directly to the platform and then block their account to prevent them from sending you further messages.
- Report to police
Report cyber-harassment or blackmailing to Cyber Crime Wing – Federal Investigation Agency. Helpline: 1991 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.fia.gov.pk/ccw