Strangers on the Internet
June 27, 2010 § 1 Comment
I am always surprised when I hear that someone I know met their significant other or best friend over the Internet. However, once I hear the context of the encounter, it’s never very shocking or shady. Which leads me to the conclusion that…growing up as a child of the 90s really tainted my image of the Internet as a social meeting place for new contacts. While I was growing up there were so many horror stories of people preying on young teens through AOL chatrooms and fake social networking accounts. And because of those stories I think people forgot that there are smart people who are cautious and careful who meet other people on the Internet, not out of desperation or an inability to connect with people in their existing circles, but for a multitude of legitimate reasons.
Thinking back, I have met people over the Internet who are now some of my favorite people. When I was planning my trip to Asia, I took advantage of the swing dance groups on Facebook in the various countries and messaged the admins for suggestions on places to go and people to contact. It never seemed weird to me, possibly because the swing community is so friendly and safe, possibly because even though they were all strangers to me, many of these people were part of my extended network (a friend of a friend of a friend, etc.).
I also had to meet people over the Internet while planning Kollaboration. I e-mailed so many people (potential sponsors, guest performers, contestants, volunteers, etc.) but that never seemed weird either. Musing over these occurrences makes me wonder how dangerous the Internet really is. There is undoubtedly a great deal of malicious content, but who are the real potential victims here? Have I passed that point or am I still in danger of falling victim to a Craigslist murderer or chatroom stalker? I think that part of the reason I feel so secure online is because I am usually the one seeking out people online and not the other way around.
Of course, people should still be very careful on the Internet and be wary of ever giving out or posting any information that can lead to a physical location. However, this becomes more and more difficult with the various social networking sites that are popping up every day. Even if I didn’t know where a person lived, I could easily find out their whereabouts by finding their Linked-in or Twitter. A simple Google search also works wonders. A tech-savvy person could also track another person down by IP address as well.
So where is the line now in 2010? Should everyone not have a Linked-In that says their company’s name and location? Should we all start deleting our Facebook accounts (because even if you put everything on private, your photo and friends are still viewable in a Google search)? Or should we believe that we are safe and allow ourselves to risk a little bit of our privacy in order to utilize these networks that now seem vital to maintaining relationships with our far away friends?
In the end, all of this will be a personal choice. But I can only hope two things: 1. Kids who grow up in this digital era will be smart and very cautious regarding unsolicited messages, and, 2. People will not betray each others trust by using the information found online for malicious deeds.