Tech Innovator on the Fight to Create a Safer Internet and Prevent Child Predators

Catherine Connelly is the co-founder and senior vice president of marketing at The Meet Group. The Meet Group’s mission is to meet the universal need for human connection.

Catherine is a member of RAINN’s National Leadership Council, a group of dedicated individuals who have shown their commitment to RAINN’s mission of supporting survivors and ending sexual violence.

What inspired you to become part of RAINN's National Leadership Council?

I have been part of the dating and connection apps industry since 2005 and Trust & Safety has been part of The Meet Group’s DNA since the beginning. The work of keeping our communities safe is never over. The Meet Group is proud and honored to partner with RAINN, which offers invaluable support to survivors, and I am humbled to be in this community of activists and leaders on the NLC, working together to help end sexual violence.

What do we need to do more of as a country to ensure online safety and prevent child predators?

Great things can happen when companies work together and collaborate. Many companies are fighting to create a safer internet and prevent child predators, but despite it being a global challenge, a lot of the development effort happens in isolation. To solve an industry-wide problem, technology companies must become more transparent and share knowledge, data, and technology.

We participated in Microsoft’s Project Artemis, a multi-year, multi-company effort to fight child predators. Project Artemis uses a database of common textual patterns, an age detection engine, and custom detection methods to help identify child predators and prevent exploitation. The companies behind Artemis worked together to create what we believe is an essential component of any social-oriented company’s predator toolkit.

We are also proud to be a member of the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), the Online Dating Association (ODA), and a founding member of the Oasis Consortium — an industry think tank created to accelerate the development of an ethical internet. Recently, Oasis created first-of-its-kind User Safety Standards, working in concert with industry leaders like The Meet Group to create a safety blueprint for Web 3. We believe that these standards introduce much-needed transparency in the industry.

We are always looking for new initiatives to advance our safety organization in a constantly evolving landscape. We look forward to continuing to collaborate within the larger ecosystem to not only adopt best practices but to help define what best practice looks like. We owe that to our community of millions of people who return to our apps, again and again, to meet, date, and find love.

What advice do you have for safe online dating?

With our partner ConnectSafely, we created a Quick-Guide to Online Dating, which compiles some of the precautions you should take when dating or meeting new people online.

Meet Safely: If you choose to meet in person, always meet in a public place. Make sure someone you trust knows where you will be and when. Always arrange your transportation. Avoid drugs and alcohol. If you get an unsafe vibe, trust your gut. Use the UrSafe app to stay connected to help in an emergency.

Don’t share personal information: Never share personal information, such as your social security number, home address, or details about your daily routine. Additionally, use the application where you met to chat before exchanging phone numbers to learn more about each other. This allows you to easily block or report the other person if they behave strangely.

Don’t Send Money: Never send money, even if the person claims to be in an emergency. If another member asks you for money, report it to the app immediately.

Additionally, we worked with our Safer Dating Advisory Board of epidemiologists and infectious disease experts on virus safety tips for dating more safely in the pandemic.

How can we all be better supporters and advocates for survivors in our lives?

We need to listen to their stories and educate ourselves. It is important to educate yourself on how you can help as a bystander, to look out for warning signs of grooming, and to know how to respond if a loved one comes to you for support. We need to listen to survivors and provide them with the resources they need.

Additionally, we need to support experts and advocates, and organizations like RAINN who provide invaluable support and hope when people need it the most.

What is your message to survivors?

You’re not alone, and you deserve more. We stand by you.

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