I read on Weird Cake a post about life online and some of the things that happen. It was a great post, and you ought to go over and read it. But there are a couple of things I would like to expand on about the online world, and seeing as how I don't author that blog, I figured I would do a somewhat similar post over here too.
The social scene on the Internet is definitely a vibrant place. Any type of person you could ever imagine meeting I am sure you can find them online. That being said, it also creates a few problems along the way. Since I have been online for about ten years, here are a couple of things you might keep in mind, especially if you are rather new, or getting into a new corner of the Internet.
In the chat rooms, a lot of people seem to take advantage of the whole anonymity thing to say and do things that in person there would be no way they would do. They might think about them, but the chances of them acting on those thoughts would be nil. Fortunately, the whole anonymity thing is really not relavent any longer. There are many ways to check on someone's identity, the server managers definitely can check the whole who, when and where of the folks on their servers. (Though the checks are usually only made AFTER a complaint is filed.) What this means is that the online world is getting safer. Just keep in mind that there are those idiots out there that still think they are anonymous and take advantage of it.
It is EASY to say what the other person wants to hear:
This is one of the biggest things about the social scene online. How do you know that the person on the other end of the connection actually is what he or she portends to be? It is surprisingly easy to say things that the other person wants to hear when you are not face to face. Body language, inflection, sarcasm, and dry wit are just some of the things that do not translate well in the online world. So, how do you get around this? First and foremost, be true to yourself. Secondly, talk to the person over several sessions over a period of time. Remember what the person says from one session to the next. If need be, keep a history (all chat platforms offer some function to be able to save a history) and compare things. The players and folks with the fabricated stories then become easy to spot because it is generally very hard for them to keep the story straight. Inconsistencies are a sign of trouble, the degree of which you can determine if you keep talking and probing. Also watch what they say to other people. I have known people to try to run three or four different stories within a single chatroom.
Romantic/Personal Relationship Development:
I am living proof that a personal relationship can be started online. My current girlfriend is someone I met online, as were the past two. But here's the catch. It is important NOT to make a final decision about any relationship online before you actually meet the person. If they are across the country, visit them on a vacation. A couple of times. Make sure that what you developed online translates to a working relationship in the real world. Basically, it's like going to a bar and meeting someone. You wouldn't marry that person if you have never seen them outside the bar, don't think you are going to marry someone you have never met except online.
And finally, some might get mad at this, BUT THE INTERNET IS NO PLACE FOR KIDS!!!
Yes, there are sites that are designed specifically for kids and teens. Great, if you have kids, sit with them and explore those sites with them. Regardless of the security, if someone really wants to get onto the sites, they can, and they do. We have all heard the horror stories about kids getting into trouble that starts online. Basically, it boils down to the fact that they do not yet have the social skills to be able to determine who is real, who's playing them, and who is downright dangerous. That is your job as a parent!