This is a very pertinent question for most of our people, for the simple reason that revealing ones identity to the wrong person could be potentially catastrophic. While the very safest option would be to never give out any real-world details, in some instances it may be appropriate or even desirable to do so.
So, when can we trust? Difficult to answer definitively, but I think we should run by this checklist before deciding to open up to somebody or not:
- How long have you had an online friendship with this person? Obviously it’s different sharing personal data with someone you’ve known for months than somebody you pretty much just met. I’d advise erring on the side of caution, and not sharing any such information with people until you know them well enough. Depending on how much you communicate, it may be a matter of months, or it may not be for years.
- How much have they revealed about themselves? If you’ve been chatting for a while then you should know a great deal about them. If they aren’t forthcoming about themselves then this may indicate a red flag. Genuine friendships go two ways.
- Has this person ever asked you for identifiable information out of the blue? If so this is a red flag, the person may well be a cop.
- Has this person asked for ‘pics’ [of a sexual nature or depicting nudity] out of the blue? If so then this person is extremely likely to be a fetishist, so if you’re looking for an offline friend in the community who really understands… this isn’t it.
- What sort of vibe do you get from them? Don’t disclose anything to anyone you suspect of being a spy or a possible pervert. While gut instinct is not 100% accurate, it’s often reliable and you should trust it when it senses danger.
- Have you had any video chats with the person? If you have, you’ll be able to tell more about them than just writing on a screen, and you’ll have more of an inclination as to whether or not they are the type of person you would want to reveal any personal info to.
- Why are you thinking about sharing such information? Do you plan on meeting this person offline?
This list covers when you shouldn’t reveal your information to another person online, but I think we need to talk about journalists as well. Journalists are duty bound to keep private their sources details, HOWEVER, this duty can be overturned by courts who may subpoena the information from a journalist against their will. Such a journalist would likely go to prison for refusing to answer the demands of such a subpoena. This puts him in the impossible position of either keeping his honor and integrity intact, or obeying a court order. For this reason, if you do choose to share your story with a journalist, do as I do, do it on an anonymous basis only. Not only does this protect you, but the journalist as well. He can’t be subpoenaed for information he doesn’t have in the first place. You’ll discover that most journalists who work for a company will be unable to meet these requirements because of the contractual constraints put upon them by their employers. However, many independent journalists are far more flexible in this regard, and these are the ones to work with.
There is another category of person with which I would operate on the exact same basis as a journalist, and that is anyone doing studies on us. It is very possible to answer questionnaires and even write about your circumstances in detail without having to provide any real world information. To anyone conducting a study, it should be the information that you’re going to be providing that is important rather than the identity of the participants. Again, NOT giving out such info protects both yourself, and the person doing the study.
All in all I think most of this is just applying a bit of common sense and caution. It’s a system which allows you to share info with others when it’s safe but at the same time to protect yourself. Whatever you choose to do, stay safe out there.