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LGBTQIA+ Online:

Tips for being safe online

Social media and smartphone apps are a great way to network, connect and meet people with similar interests. With growing hostilities towards the LGBTQIA+ community in some countries worldwide, it is crucial that when you are online that you remain safe at all times. Our top ten tips for online safety are designed to help you protect yourself but still allow you to meet interesting people from around the world
  A lifeline for many
People born after the 1990s will typically find it difficult to imagine a time or world without the internet and often take social media services and smartphone apps for granted. However, the world before these services and inventions was a very isolating and challenging time to live through, especially for those that did not fit the conventional norm. Even though many of these innovative services have been positive, many of the providers of these services have been slow to react. Many have failed to protect users in areas such as misuse, online bullying and fake profiles.

Social media and smartphone apps have changed how we interact, significantly positively impacting many minority groups. For the LGBTQIA+ community, these services have been a lifeline and helped many community members connect with others who think and feel similar to themselves. Another advantage is that they have increased personal safety, especially compared to more traditional ways of meeting and hooking up. So, what can they do to protect themselves for anyone who wants to venture online?
  #1 Knowing more about the service
Before signing up for an account or downloading an app, the first thing you should do is to carry out some basic research. Find out information such as where the service provider is located. Where your data will be stored and how your data is used and protected. It is not a long process, and you will find most of the answers by looking through the service’s privacy notice or terms and conditions. Knowing where the service provider and data are located is essential. It adds protection around stopping your data from getting into the wrong hands, especially in countries hostile towards the LGBTQIA+ community.

According to the United Nations Trade and Development (UNCTAD) website (, as of September 2020, 19% of all countries worldwide have no laws in place relating to data protection. 10% have no regulations in place and have drafted new legislation, and 5% it was unable to establish whether laws were in place or not. Meaning 34% (79 countries) currently have a draft or no legislation in place and offer no protection for your data in those countries.
  #2 Looking for the signs of a fake profile
Many app developers and social media sites have simplified the signup process, often only requiring an email address or mobile phone number. Creating a new or fake profile online is relatively easy with the free and disposable email addresses provided by services, such as Gmail, Hotmail, etc., and contract-free SIM cards. Not all fake profiles are made with the sole purpose to mislead; instead, people afraid for their safety might use a fake profile to protect their identity. Whatever the reason, a fake profile is still misleading, and you must establish early on if the person you are speaking to is real or not.

One key sign would be professional-looking photographs, especially if the pictures displayed seem to be from the same photo shoot. They will often use photos of good-looking regional celebrities that might not be known internationally. Even images obtained through tricking unsuspecting people could all be used to create a fake profile. If contacted by someone from a fake profile, you will quickly see signs. For example, they make excuses for not providing additional photographs or based on what they are asking of you. If you are unsure, speak to them without sharing too much and see what they ultimately want. If they are fake, they likely want something from you, and the more you decline, the quicker they will be frustrated and move on. If you are sure you have discovered a fake profile, you should report them to the service provider immediately.
  #3 Catfishing

Catfishing relates to a person pretending to be someone they are not, hoping to trick somebody online. Whatever the reasons or motivations, such as lack of confidence, confusion about their gender or sexuality, or merely being unkind, catfishing is a cruel and horrible practice. Signs relating to catfishing are similar to those outlined in point 2; however, some catfishers will play the long game, forming a connection with someone over a long period. They might speak regularly and even create convincing backstories; however, they will typically make excuses for why they cannot talk on the phone, cannot do video calls, or even meet in person.

Disappearing for days without any messages or any form of communication and becoming agitated, aggressive or evening ignore the person when confronted. It is vital to end contact with a potential catfisher early in the relationship before investing your time and emotions into someone that might not be what they seem. Tell them your concerns and watch their reaction if a person repeatedly refuses to meet via a video chat or in person. It is a possible sign that they are not who they seem to be if their response is negative. If someone is contacting you via a smartphone or pc, it is unlikely that they cannot gain access to a camera.

  #4 Real Identity
If you have ever created a social media profile, there is a good chance you can be found online easily from just your full name and location. Though you might have nothing to hide, there is still a risk that someone could share intimate details about you with your friends or family through various platforms. Though sensitive material can be quickly taken down when reported, it can still do a lot of damage in the meantime. The main risk is a user potentially capturing the image, especially with most phones providing the ability to take screenshots before it is removed.

The point is not to create fake profiles or use false names. It is crucial not to include your full name publicly or link your social media profiles or other personal information. If you want to share this information with people you meet, you should only do so when you know who you are speaking with and are sure they are who you believe them to be.
  #5 Too good to be true

If someone sounds amazing, whose looks are appealing to you and generally seems perfect, then it is likely that they are too good to be true. Ask questions, speak to them for a while and avoid giving away too much of yourself. When you are physically attracted to someone, you might do things that you might not normally do. You might be afraid of refusing their requests, worried that they will lose interest in you. If someone is genuinely interested in you, they will take the time to get to know you, and they should not lose interest that quickly. Think about the facts and that things might not be all that it seems, photographs from when that person was much younger, or worse, a fake profile. Follow the examples in steps 2 and 3 and see what happens.

  #6 Online bullying

Bullying online is not just children taking it from the playground; it also frequently happens amongst adults. Bullying is where people make mean or harmful comments towards another individual to make them feel bad or upset about themselves. Bullying in any form is wrong, but you must not engage. A bully wants to know that they have affected you somehow, so the more you react, the more they will keep up the bullying.

Engaging with them adds fuel to the fire; report them immediately regardless of whether it is a real or fake profile. If you are part of a group and more than one person is bullying, leave immediately and report the group. Reporting users inside most services is easy, and telling friends, family, school, or an employer is equally important. Bullies often operate in the shadows. Attacking people they feel will likely not get them into trouble or those who will not report them, so shine the light on them any way you can.

  #7 Resisting extortion

Extortion is one of the worst. The risks are high for those committing the crime; if they are caught extorting, most will likely receive hefty sentences and fines if prosecuted. It is important to note that 80% of countries worldwide have laws relating to cybercrimes. So if someone is trying to extort you, it does not matter if they are not in the same country or region as you, as they will likely be prosecuted in their own country if reported. Now for the scenario, when you meet someone online, you get to know them over a long time. After a while, you feel you have a connection and can trust them; at that point, they ask you for intimate photographs, and because you have feelings for them, you agree. Shortly after sending the pictures, you receive an ultimatum, pay them a certain amount of money or perform some other horrible task.

Failure to do as they ask, you are told they will share the photographs with your friends, family, and online; what do you do? The first thing is not to panic; you need to think rationally and evaluate the situation. Are you visible in the photographs, or would people know it was you? Ultimately could you claim that they are fake? In countries that are hostile towards members of the LGBTQIA+ community, the stakes are indeed much higher. Still, if the extorter is in the same area as you, they likely face the same risk.

The added issue is that once you do as they ask, what is to stop them from coming back again with further requests in the future? Instead, devise a plan. If it is safe to do so in your country, contact the police and tell them what is happening. The most important thing to remember is not to panic and that we are all human.

Most people would understand that you had trusted someone and that your trust had been betrayed. In this scenario and many other similar stories, the person has nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed by, just that they made a mistake. Ultimately, the extorter should be exposed for what they are.

  #8 Care what you share
The simple rule to follow should be in the form of questions that you ask yourself, what is the worst that could happen if I shared this? Would I be embarrassed if others saw it? Why does the person want this so badly? How will they react if I say no? You will likely know the answer already; however, you will quickly see a person’s true intentions by saying maybe or even no. If you do as they ask, what would it mean? If it results in you losing money or sharing intimate pictures, stop and think about what you are doing, think rationally, and take how you feel towards that person from the equation.
  #9 Location Matters

Where you are physically located can also raise concerns. There were stories back in 2020, allegedly that a police force in a Muslim country was using a popular gay app to speak with and meet up with gay men. Upon meeting, they would immediately arrest them on indecency charges. In some cases, there were reports of victims being tortured. Many of the victims would not complain or even go public because of the impact on their own and families’ lives. If you go online in a hostile country, start with basic steps. Start by turning off your GPS location when at home and whenever you travel. If you meet someone in the same area as you, ask to speak via a video call before meeting them.

In extreme situations such as entrapment, the police would likely be using fake profiles, so they would probably make up excuses and refuse to show themselves via a video. If you fall victim, go back online, even under a different account, requesting that the service provider blocks the offending user and warn others. If you are a foreigner in that country and fear what might happen to you next, visit your country’s embassy or consulate for support and guidance. Lastly, it is always important to understand that country’s rules and laws when travelling abroad.

  #10 Real World

It is incredible how often people view their in-person and online behaviour as something different. The reality is that both have consequences. However, most people are not aware of what steps they can take when someone is abusive to them on a forum or within an online group. The reality is that if everyone reported abusive and vile online behaviour, especially by reporting them to the service providers or the police in extreme situations. People would likely think twice before posting their hurtful comments. If you are subject to abuse, take screenshots, especially if they attempt to remove the comments if alerted about your complaint. Record any information you can find about them on the service, such as their IP address, any clues in whatever they publish, basically as much about them as available.

Once you have all the information, report it immediately to the service provider. If it is a person that you know, talk to someone close to you and, in extreme situations, report them to the police. The police worldwide often have specialist units and are now much more adept at handling similar cases. People will one day learn that what they say hiding behind a screen has the same impact on an individual as doing it face-to-face. They should face the consequences of purposely being hurtful or causing harm.

  Navigate safely online
Using social media services and smartphone apps often seem daunting to some. The tips may appear scary at first; however, you will usually be able to navigate online safely by stopping and thinking about what you are doing. Whenever you encounter fake and horrible people, block and report them to the service provider or police if needed.

Do not be afraid to tell people close to you what is happening. Never be ashamed of trusting and creating close relationships with people. How we behave in person and online is the same. However, some people get a false sense of security sharing their views and opinions. Even if a person does share their thoughts and feelings, it does not mean that you have to listen to them. Many will hide in the shadows, so shine the light on them and remember there are many ways you can block, report, and obtain support online.

Please stay safe, and I hope that you have fun whilst online


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