When a young British woman with learning difficulties announced she was marrying an Egyptian she’d met online, her guardians were unsurprisingly sceptical.

The 21-year-old, who’d been brain injured in a car accident as a child, was going to pay for Asrat to come to the UK, where they’d live happily ever after.

What her support workers found next highlights the dangers lurking on the web. After being told he wasn’t getting a one-way ticket to England, Asrat proceeded to explain in detail to the girl how and why she should commit suicide.

She didn’t follow his advice but the case was passed on to the police. Since Asrat used the encrypted messaging platform BBM, however, tracking him down was an immense challenge.

The case shows the toxic combination formed when vulnerable people stumble into dark forces intent on preying on them via social media.

This and other such stories were shared by case management expert Angela Kerr with a room full of brain injury professionals in Westminster recently.

“There’s this massive void of virtual space and there are people in boats hanging on the edge with fishing lines, hoping to catch people,” she said.

These victims includethe brain injured boy who sent intimate pictures to a girl via Facebook.

Rather than reporting it, the girl’s father secretly tried to blackmail the boy.
 Kerr, who chairs brain injury case management body BABICM and runs AKA Case Management in Nottingham, also told the tale of a 13-year-old with a history of trauma who became a pariah in her village.

“She used Facebook to share an intimate picture of herself with some boys andwas prosecuted for circulating child pornography.

“She was facing a custodial sentence and being added to the sex offenders register, until the clinical arm of the government’s disability programme stepped in to stop it.

“Due to the girl being from a small community, and the story appearing in the press, the local community turned against her, labelling her a sexual deviant and a pervert. She was bullied by children, and adults, and had to move areas.”

What astounded Kerr in her researchinto social media, and brain injury case managers’ experiences of it, is the sheer number of platforms in existence.

“The main risk from many of them is the ability to talk to strangers, which can lead to exploitation, grooming and bullying,” she said.

Added to the well-known stable of
 Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, arescores of emerging platforms.From joke-rating sites to ‘Fmylife’, which charts users’ daily disasters, platforms of every niche imaginable are bringing strangers together online.

Research suggests social media users with brain injuries tend to use multiple sites.

A US study published in April, which monitored individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) at 10 specialist centres, found that 74 per cent of them were internet users – compared to the general North American population’s 84 per cent average.

Of the TBI internet users, 79 per cent had a profile account on a social networking site, with more than half using at least two sites. Smartphones were the most prevalent means of internet access for TBI persons.

Speaking at the Head First conference, Kerr drew attention to a number of particularly risky sites. Among them is Habbo Hotel,an online game and community aimed at teenagers, that enables users to navigate an imaginary world via an avatar, meeting real-world people along the way and customising ‘hotel’ rooms.

It was hit by scandal in 2012 when undercover journalists found children were being exposed to explicit content.The Daily Mail reported that a 13-year-old girl was bombarded with pornographic chat and asked to strip naked on a webcam.

The site has since set out guidelines to parents and vowed to get tough on anything that puts young users at risk.Games can be a particularly dangerousarea for vulnerable adults, as well as young people.

The ugly realities of the internet can very quickly come crashing into the fantasy realms in which users are immersed. The starkest proof of this is the murder of Breck Bednar in 2014.

At just 14, he was stabbed to death by a ‘predator’ he met online who groomedhim through video games. Risks loom for vulnerable adults too.

“Some brain injury clients are obsessed by playing on their Xbox or Playstations until the early hours of the morning,” said Kerr.

“Gaming platforms are mostly about creating virtual worlds and linking users with people across the world in chatrooms. MovieStarPlanet is one of the highest risk ones.

“You can create a chatroom where you can be any kind of movie star you wish.“This is dangerous as you can be anonymous yet attractive due to the person youare representing.”

Chatrooms are a common denominator among the riskier social media platforms.

“MeowChat, for example, is a social network that allows you to talk with strangers in a public room, with an option to go into a private room.

“The risk is that clients can talk to strangers and no-one else would know.”

The blossoming relationship between location technology and social networks is bringing new dangers to the fore.

While dating app Tinder shows users other singles within a few miles of them, Happnis a little creepier.

When a user opens iton their phone, they see other users with whom they’ve physically crossed paths with throughout their day.

“It’s like we’re moving towards a situation where, if it hasn’t happened on social media, it hasn’t happened at all,” said Kerr.

Pressure is mounting on social media sites to improve the way they protect children and vulnerable adults.

Peter Wanless, the chief executive of children’s charity NSPCC, said in June that letting children on social media sites was as dangerous as letting them go to a nightclub.

The government has urged sites to be more vigilant about dangerous content and activity, in the wake of recent terror attacks.Google, which owns YouTube, along with Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, and Twitter are among the tech companies being urged to take the responsibilitiesthat come with their great influencemore seriously.

As Kerr closed her talk in London, shele delegates with the words ofmurdered teenager Breck Bednar’s mother: “I want this tragedy to openthe eyes of everyone to the dangers of online predators.”