As a rule of thumb, ADISC does not recommend trying to set up physical meetings from a virtual environment. This article will explain why this is the case, and then and only then, if there are those who are still willing to deal with the inherent risks involved, it will explore what can be done to manage them.
How the Human Mind Works
Many important mechanical devices are designed to fail safe. You will know the sort of thing: train vacuum brakes which automatically come on if the system leaks or the vacuum isn't maintained.
It's important to understand that the human mind does not work that way, particularly in regard to assessing whether a person is telling the truth or not.
Human communication is a complex thing, and most of it is not in what we say. It is estimated that the content of what we say is barely a tenth of the whole; the rest is made up of non-verbal clues like body language and the tone of voice used. Unfortunately, the human mind is not built to fail safe and become more wary about trusting what it sees when those clues are missing.
This is not a new thing. You'll have heard stories about people meeting via the Internet and the meeting going disastrously wrong, but similar stories existed a century and a half ago between operators of the new-fangled telegraph system. And consider this: why do people talk about stuff being "phony"? Answer: because someone smart and devious realised that the telephone disguised your real voice and used it to his advantage, and thus people learnt to tell the difference between the sound of a real human voice in the flesh and a voice distorted by Bell.
There are other quirks of the human mind which also come into to play, beyond the missing conversational clues. Two particular things stand out: first, trust is generally age-related. As you grow older, you become less trusting and more inclined to question motives. This isn't always the case, especially for those falling somewhere on the autistic spectrum, but itís an important thing to note that many people of internet-going age are particularly prone to excessively trusting others as a fact of human nature.
Secondly, environment can have a big impact on decision making. A phenomenon exists called "Bunny Slipper Syndrome". If you are in a secure situation - at home, on your own, late at night with the mug of cocoa and the aforementioned bunny slippers on your feet - you will be more trusting, and you will disclose things that you would not dream of disclosing in the cold light of day.
The Nature of the Internet
While the issues in human psychology are not new, the nature of the Internet is significantly different from what has gone before. Most of the Internet is actually invisible - it's estimated that over 80% of what is there cannot be seen by search engines. That was never true of the telegraph system, and nor (until the advent of disposable PAYG phones) was it true of telephony.
However, what is visible on the Internet is a particularly deep mine of information. With a little luck, and a user who has Bunny Slipper Syndrome, it is surprisingly easy to pull together a lot of information about a given person, right down to addresses and telephone numbers. Someone who has the right combination of expertise and evil can quite easily lurk in the shadows amassing that data and profiling their target, so that when he makes his approach, he will have everything he needs to seem absolutely innocent and inviting.
Sites like ADISC do, of course, do everything they can to protect their users. But - and it is an important but - they cannot guarantee security.
The Risk Factors Combined
Now take a step back and see the combined risks: the human mind that trusts more than it should, and the ability for those who use the Internet to conceal both identity and true intent. You should start to understand why the wise answer is to keep conversations only in cyberspace. Given that the trust issue is generally greater the younger you are, I would seriously counsel that anyone under the age of 21 stops reading right here.
However, if you are determined to go on at your own risk, there are certain things you can do.
The Four Vs: Verification, Visible and Vanilla, Vigilance
If you are really sure you want to go ahead with a physical meeting, there are certain steps you must take. I've given them as 4 words beginning with V:
Verification - This is the hardest part of it: how do you verify that you can trust the person you are meeting not to broadcast your identity?
Feel free to Google the other person's identity to look for patterns. There are two ways of doing this. First off, the same name may well turn up on other AB/DL/TB sites - if it does, you can evaluate whether the stories they are telling to one community match with what they are telling to another. If they don't - steer clear.
The other trick you can sometimes pull off is to look for a characteristic phrase that the same person uses under a number of different identities. This is tricky, but it can lead you to the other side of the equation: if the same person is using different identities and characteristics such as age, location or sex - steer clear.
Visible and Vanilla - The meeting place you select must be neutral ground, agreed by both of you, and it must be somewhere that you can be seen by other neutral people. That suggests doing the meeting during daylight hours and in a very public space.
If you have a third party friend you can confide in, arrange with them that you will check in with them at a given time after the meeting - if you fail to make that call, they should raise the alarm.
The fact that you are meeting in a public space means that it shouldn't be to talk primarily about your particular ADISC-related interests. In fact you should keep that right off the agenda; it should be suspicious if thatís where the conversation keeps heading despite being in a highly-public location where you can be overheard.
Vigilance - The fact that you are meeting face-to-face will help you, but you really need to do your homework, both before and after the meeting.
Prepare for your meeting by evaluating exactly what you know about the other person from their previous postings/chat. Look not for the obvious things - the stuff that relates to AB/DL - but for the obscure incidental details (eg, did they mention one night that their dad was a Chicago Cubs/Everton/Penguins/whatever fan? They say they go to church - did they say which church?). Equally, make sure you know exactly what you have told the other person, and what they could already know about you. This is hard, because you are going to have to commit at least some of it to memory: these are the toeholds you need.
When you meet, look the other person carefully up and down. How do they look - nervous? At this stage that means not a lot, but it may become significant.
Get the conversation going, and watch the other person's eyes. Will they give you eye contact? Do they avoid looking at you altogether or do they stare at you? Lack of eye contact is one of the clear markers that something is being concealed; if you spot the other person sweating or fidgeting a lot, then be very wary. This is where you also need to factor in how they looked at the start of the meeting: if they are clearly more nervous as the conversation goes on, the likelihood they are concealing is high. It could just be nerves, the more so if there is no discernable rise in unease, but you ought be wary if they seem continually uncomfortable.
Keep the conversation on the light side. You're not talking about the AB/DL/TB stuff, remember - you are looking to establish what sort of person they are. So let things run, but then drop an incidental detail in and see how they react. The reaction ought to be "Hey, how did you know that?", and the surprise will mean that any front they are putting up will momentarily drop, and you will see the real person. If they don't spot it, let it go, but consider it a failure on the test of whether they have been telling the truth or not. Try also dropping in detail which is incorrect based on what theyíve said online ("I understand your dad's a Sox/Liverpool/Oilers fan") and see how they respond to that.
Set yourself some red lines around information you want to protect at that first meeting (the obvious one is home addresses): if they start pushing, make sure they know that the red lines are there, and if they keep pushing, do not be afraid to walk away.
Finally bring the conversation to an end, and pay close attention to how they react. If they appear reluctant to let it end, treat it as a possible indicator.
Go home and review the whole meeting. You need to put together the whole impression with the details. If you come up with someone who avoids eye contact, is fidgety, doesn't spot the details - right or wrong - that you have gleaned about them, the answer would have to be to say no to further contact. If they are open and relaxed and what they've said online is in agreement with what they say face-to-face, then you have established a small measure of trust.
At the moment, that trust is only sufficient to say something like "let's do this again", and you would need to go through a similar "Four Vs" process at least two or three more times before you can start to think about establishing anything more private.