The world is full of people from many different backgrounds and cultures. The internet can be a great place to overcome physical barriers and meet these people to learn new ideas and ways of doing things, or to share similar interests and experiences. In this section, you will learn how to safely interact with others online and form meaningful and positive relationships.
Exercise Caution and Develop Trust
People online can be very nice and genuinely interested in bonding with others. Many develop friendships or romantic relationships online. At first, it’s common practice to use aliases or screennames that don’t contain personally identifying information. Once you meet someone online that you want to share your real name or other information with, consider talking to a parent or other trusted person first. You can discuss why you feel you can trust this person, and together with your parent or friend decide whether it is safe to reveal your name or other information. Some people choose to video call people they meet online (for example, to make sure their age and gender match what they have said). If someone tries to get you to tell them personal information before you are ready to trust them (such as your home or work address, or full name), they’re not being a good friend.
It’s important to be aware that people online can be anonymous. Sometimes, people give false information about themselves, their identity, experiences, and intentions for a variety of reasons. For example:
- A child may say she’s an adult to bypass online spaces that have age restrictions.
- Somebody may give a false name or location in order to protect their identity.
- A 50-year-old male police officer may say that he’s an 11-year-old girl in order to catch online sexual predators in the act.
- Somebody may say that they’re interested in friendship when really they’re interested in something else, like financial gain or sexual activities.
When you first meet people online, be mindful of their intentions and don’t give away personal information, even if they seem like they could be trustworthy friends. This is particularly true if you’re open about having autism, as doing so may attract people who want to cyberbully or take advantage of you (remember, it is always your decision to disclose that you have autism). If you’re having a discussion with someone and it starts to get uncomfortable, it’s best to leave the situation.
If the situation escalates and someone seriously threatens to stalk or harm you in some way:
- Ask a trusted friend or adult as soon as possible for help on how to deal with them.
- Take screenshots and records of the incident in case the situation escalates further and you need to take legal action in the future.
- Block them and remove any trail of identifying information you may have so that they can’t find you.
As soon as you’re able to stop worrying about them, you can continue to spend your time hanging out with people who make you feel positive! As with offline relationships, the benefit of making online connections – whether they are friendly, romantic, or sexual in nature – often outweighs the risk of getting hurt. Don’t let one bad experience with one person keep you from trying in the future!