Although chatting online can be great fun, young people can sometimes find themselves in situations where they can feel out of their depth. Risks can arise when young people give out their personal details to strangers. The online world can often seem very different to the real world for young people, and they can be tempted to say and do things that they wouldn’t dream of if they met someone face to face. This can include giving out personal information such as mobile numbers and pictures of themselves.
If they are talking to another child there is a risk that they will misuse this information – for example, by texting abusive messages to the child, or by posting their image on a website; but there is obviously a greater risk if the person that they are chatting to is an adult. Unfortunately, paedophiles – adults who want to meet young people for sex – use the internet, often with the intention of talking with and meeting a child. Young people can be naive to this risk, and often feel that they are invincible, or that ‘they would know if someone was lying’.
Young people will often ‘swap friends’ through IM, and therefore can be chatting to strangers who they feel they trust because a friend of a friend knows them. IM is a very intimate form of communication – more so than a chat room with many participants, and therefore child abusers will often use this as a means to extract personal information from a young person.