Swipe left on e-dating: The dangers hidden in the dark


Isabella Torrales

WHO ARE YOU OPENING YOUR HEART OUT TO?: The individual on the other side of the screen may not be as they seem.

Megha Kishore, Staff Writer

Online dating may seem disconnected from us, like some foreign idea we see in cliche romance movies or books that over-glamorize the idea of having that perfect somebody slide into your messages. However, with almost 500,000 predators active online everyday, it’s surprisingly common for young teens to be manipulated by virtual strangers. In these cases, overwhelming emotions in an online relationship could start clouding teens’ judgment in assessing the legitimacy of cyber dating and in noticing the signs of possible grooming.

In an age where every high school student seems to be on Instagram or Snapchat, the danger of being taken advantage of is especially high, with investigation and arrest statistics proving that 80% of sex crimes start on social media. According to the FBI, one in five minors are victims of sexual solicitation on the Internet.

Pedophiles and human traffickers try to form emotional connections or incite feelings of sympathy to make victims feel indebted and dependent on their “partner” and fearful to stand up against them. To express their love and appreciation, the victim feels pressured to do what the perpetrator wants, giving them money, personal information, expensive gifts or explicit photos.

By using fake photos on their social media accounts, predators are able to trap victims by fabricating a false image of themselves. They can lie about their age, name and life experiences, among other personal information, to trick victims into trusting them under the false notion that they are bonding with a stranger. Because of how simple it is to create a false identity on the Internet, there is no way of verifying that the person is who they claim they are.

According to FBI polls, 70% of children accept friend requests from people who they don’t know. An additional 52% of teens have given personal information, such as photos or physical descriptions of themselves, to people they have never met offline. The high statistics speak to the little-known dangers of befriending strangers without knowing who they truly are.

Not only are predators present on social media, but also on multiplayer video games or chat room platforms such as Discord and Omegle. According to FBI special agents, some predators are able to hack into the systems of these virtual platforms and access the webcam. This means that even if somebody doesn’t have their camera on, they can still have access to it to gather footage for blackmail.

While it can be difficult to determine who on the internet is genuine or dangerous, it’s important to ensure that people take important safety measures before speaking to strangers. Planning to meet a stranger in person can be especially dangerous, as the stranger may bring physical harm to their victims. While some may believe that video calling is safer, it can still be unsafe as it puts victims at risk of being shown graphic or disturbing content on call. Webcam footage can also be used maliciously. As much as it may seem like you know somebody from interacting with them online, there is no way to know for sure unless you know them personally.

One sign that a person is potentially harmful is when they share personal information about themselves or ask for yours. When an unknown person online vents about their trauma to you, they can later use it against you for blackmail or to make you feel pressured to stay with them.

If you feel that you or anybody you know is a victim of online grooming, contact trusted adults, counselors or the police in cases of immediate danger. Survivors of sexual exploitation and harrassment should contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline or Irvine Unified’s Title IX coordinator, through their email [email protected], as they provide services and support for students that have faced sexual harrassment on or off campus and allow students to choose whether they’d like parents or teachers to be notified.

Regardless of how convincing a profile or personality can be, there is no guarantee they are actually who they claim to be, which is why it’s necessary to remain cautious online.