When young people use social media or explore digital game worlds, this is also an opportunity to get in touch with other users. Some young people even specifically try to make new friends online. For example, through shared interests and hobbies. Exchanging ideas with others creates an important sense of belonging among adolescents. This means that close friendships can develop from online contacts. It becomes problematic when the online contact is not the person he or she claims to be and pursues interests that are harmful to the children or adolescents.
In the following, we introduce the three terms catfishing, cybergrooming and sextortion and explain how to protect yourself from assaults and where to find help.
Creating a fake profile on social media services is easy. Some young people also do this in order to be able to act and interact on a public as well as a private profile or to circumvent age-related restrictions. So-called "catfishing" is a special form of creating fake profiles. Here, people invest a lot of time to build up a false identity online.
The term "catfishing" originates from the 2010 documentary film Catfish. The film is about a young man who enters into a relationship with a woman online. He later finds out that this woman is not the person she claimed to be. The title of the movie refers to a scene from the movie, which is about "Catfish" (in German: Wels). The film drew a television program with the same name on MTV. The TV show was also about online dating scams.
A key characteristic of catfishing is criminal intent. For example, many "catfishes" can be found on dating platforms, where they pretend to be looking for a partner. Once a sense of commitment and trust has been established, they try to ask for money, for example, which is supposed to help them get out of a difficult situation. In some cases, the victims are put under a lot of pressure or even blackmailed. Others set up such profiles specifically to stalk people or to engage in bullying.
Cybergrooming is a form of sexualized violence and refers to the initiation of sexual contact with children and young people online. The English term "grooming" is used when perpetrators ingratiate themselves with their victims in order to later exploit the trust they have gained. In cybergrooming, perpetrators try to contact children and young people specifically on popular social media services or in online games. Some very quickly involve the adolescents in sexual conversations and demand intimate recordings, for example. Others build up contact and trust rather slowly. Perpetrators of cybergrooming also often use fake profiles. They pretend to be their peers, pretend to work at a modeling agency or to have contacts who can help them become successful. The aim is to persuade children and young people to send intimate or pornographic images of themselves or even to meet with these people.
According to current surveys, around one in four people under the age of 18 say they have already experienced cybergrooming. Yet only a small proportion of cases are reported and prosecuted.
Sextortion is sexual extortion via the Internet. The term is made up of the words "sex" and "extortion". In this case, people make contact with users in order to obtain intimate recordings in the course of their mutual exchange. Those affected are then blackmailed into sendingmoney or further recordings in order to prevent the recordings from being published on the Internet.
In another form of sextortion, victims receive messages claiming that they are already in possession of intimate recordings. Perpetrators claim, for example, to have "hacked" a device of the person concerned and to have come across the material in the process. In these cases, too, the victims are usually asked to send money.
- Remain suspicious:
No matter how nice and charming an online contact appears at first glance, we can never know online whether the person is really who they say they are. It helps to always take a close look at social media profiles of online contacts. However, it should also be borne in mind that deep fakes, for example, are making it increasingly easy to create fake profiles these days. So even conscientious checking does not offer absolute security.
- Protect privacy:
Your own profile should never reveal too much private information, such as your age and place of residence. Personal data such as address or sensitive data such as bank details should never be given to strangers - no matter how trustworthy they appear.
- Be careful with sexting:
Sending intimate images of yourself online is never safe, no matter how long the contact may have existed. There is always a risk that you will be blackmailed later with these recordings or that the photos will be shared and made public. Attention: Sexting can also be punishable by law. Information on this can be found at www.safer-sexting.de.
- Block, report, delete:
Safe online chat also includes breaking off contact immediately if you feel uncomfortable. For example, because a person suddenly becomes very intrusive. The best thing to do then is not to enter into any discussions and to block the profile directly and, if necessary, also report it on the platform.
- Do not allow blackmail:
Anyone who is blackmailed with intimate recordings must assume that the demands will not stop when money is paid. On the contrary, this can be a signal to the blackmailer that there is more money to be made. With the help of evidence such as screenshots of the chat history, you can report the extortion to the police. In addition, you can upload your own pictures to some platforms (for example, Instagram and TikTok). by using the "Take It Down" service..
- Be on thesafe side when meeting in person:
Especially if you've been in contact for a while, you'll want to meet for real. Under no circumstances should you meet secretly and be sure to let your friends or guardians know who you are meeting, when and where. For a face-to-face meeting, you should take a companion with you and choose a public place, such as a café or restaurant in the city center ( ).