How to Ensure Online Community Event Safety

No one likes to admit it, but not everyone who’s part of an online community is who he says he is. Grownups pretend to be youngsters; youngsters pretend to be older; men pretend to be women, and vice versa.

So if your community is talking about wanting to get together offline, or if individual members are interested in meeting, you may want to discuss offline safety issues. You don’t want something bad to happen to a member who met another member offline and have your brand associated with the incident.

Encourage community members to follow some best practices:

  • Don’t meet strangers in a secluded area. Even if you have been talking to someone online for months, there’s still a chance they’re not acting with honorable intentions. Meet in a crowded place, somewhere a lot of people will see you. A bar, lively boardwalk or popular restaurant is a good choice for meeting someone for the first time.

  • Don’t go back to someone’s home. Even if the other person seems trustworthy, don’t go back to his house for a nightcap. Not only is it impossible to know exactly who or what is waiting for them, if anything, but no one wants to be too far from home or civilization if something unfortunate happens.

  • Bring friends. If members are meeting another member alone, encourage them each to bring friends, even if the friends sit at another table while members meet alone. If two members are feeling a romantic connection, encourage them to double-date with trusted friends. It never hurts to have people around who have your back.

  • Tell friends. If a single member insists on meeting another member alone and she’s absolutely sure that it’s a safe situation, urge her to tell people where she is. She should tell friends and family who she’s meeting and where she’s going.

    She also should post check-ins on location-based apps, such as Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook, and tweet updates from the road. It may sound silly to let so many people know where she is and what she’s doing, but it’s also a good idea for folks know where she is just in case.

    Those under 18 should bring a parent or let their parents know where they are at all times. Teens are especially vulnerable when meeting someone from online. Discourage “alone” meetings without parental permission or chaperones present.

  • Have an exit strategy. If members meet alone, they should prepare an exit strategy if things don’t turn out as planned. Encourage them to park their cars in well-lit parking lots that are close to the meeting place, where they’ll be seen by plenty of people.

    They should memorize all exits and know how to get out quickly in case the situation turns bad or uncomfortable. Members should have their own transportation and not rely on someone they don’t know to get them home.

  • Make sure that your cellphone is fully charged. You don’t want to have to hunt around for a payphone to call a friend or 911 if something happens or if you find yourself stranded. Always leave battery space for an emergency.

  • Don’t give out phone numbers and addresses. Don’t give out personal details, such as a home phone number, address, place of employment, or school, unless you’re 100 percent absolutely sure that you can trust the other party.

  • Don’t drink too much. Not only is it tacky, but you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where judgment is impaired.

Just know there’s safety in numbers and trust builds up over time. Don’t discourage members from getting to know each other, but do make it clear which situations have your approval, and which don’t. You might even want to put up a post in your community guidelines something about bearing no responsibility for unauthorized or unofficial meetings.

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