11 August 2014
The digital age is what we’ve grown up with. We’re used to being able to connect with friends and family easily and quickly, no matter where they are in the world. Because this sort of technology has only been around for a relatively short time, safety advice isn’t as clear or readily available as perhaps it should be.
Webcams and video calls allow you to speak to anyone, anywhere in the world – and it doesn’t matter whether you know them or not. You could easily speak to someone you’ve met online but never face to face, and you don’t necessarily know who it is you’re talking to.
While being social isn’t a bad thing, and when you’re careful it’s completely fine to speak to people with shared interest, you should keep your guard up.
If you don’t know someone and they’re sending you sexy pictures, flirting with you, or paying you lots of compliments, it might be that they’re trying to put you at ease so that you send pictures back. This is a form of grooming. You might be asked to send pictures, or to go naked on webcam. There’s lots of reasons you might think it would be fine to go along with this, but the consequences can be frightening.
Always remember when speaking to someone on webcam that your actions can be recorded or print screened easily, and the images or videos can then be shared. It might be that the person you’re talking to isn’t alone – there could be anything happening just out of the frame. If you’re asked to send images or to take your clothes off, think seriously about the consequences. How would you feel if other people saw these images?
The dangers of webcams don’t end with strangers. The problem is it feels like you’re having a private conversation in which you can speak openly and honestly, but in this isn’t necessarily the case. Some people might be interested in talking, but others might be deliberately manipulating in order to hurt or embarrass you.
You can easily get caught up in a cycle of abuse. Whoever has your image might threaten to share it unless you send them more or do what they want. If you give in they’ll just have more material to blackmail you with, and there is nothing stopping them from posting those images online or sending them to your friends and family anyway.
It’s always better to use your webcam in an accessible area. If possible, restrict your video chats to the family computer. This will serve as a reminder that anyone could hear or see what you’ve said and done. Another option is to use your cam in your bedroom but to keep the door open. When you’re sitting alone in the privacy of your room it can be easy to forget how simple it would be for others to access your conversations.
When possible it is better that you only talk to people you know on webcam, but remember that if you ever feel pressured or uncomfortable, you can simply end the conversation. On most services you will be able to block users from your account, and you can report behaviour if you’re worried. You don’t need to pick up Skype calls, so it’s easy to cut contact.
We would recommend that you don’t give out information which could help people you meet online find you in real life. Your full name, your school, or even the town you live in can help someone find you, so keep these private.
It’s never too late to get help if you’ve been put in a situation you don’t feel comfortable with. If someone is encouraging you to take naked photos or to take your clothes off and you’re under 18, they are breaking the law (and you might be too). Speak to a trusted adult or contact us using our freephone number (0808 800 1037), or use the chat facility you’ll find in the bottom right hand corner of this page. There is always help out there if you need it.