I started badgering my parents to sign up for internet service in the mid 1990s. In early 1999 they finally gave in. 😉 At the time there was a great deal of conversation about the dangers of the Internet. People worried that they’d be taken advantage of online through Internet People ™ who lied about who they really were or who were running scams. We were cautioned against meeting these folks or giving them too much personal information.
What is insanely fascinating about this is that for many crimes – sexual assault and murder to name a few- the average person is far more likely to be hurt by someone they know than a stranger. Embezzlement by definition happens within personal or professional relationships. Even 43% of identity thefts are thought to be committed by someone the victim knew.
These things happen in every community. No one is immune to becoming the victim of violence or theft. Yes, there are online scammers out there. Yes, caution is a good thing. From the statistics (and depending on the crime), though, we are as if not more likely to be harmed by people we know.
Question: Why is there so much focus on crimes committed by strangers? Shouldn’t there be as many, if not more, conversations about how to avoid or mitigate the harm done in person?
When I first leapt online I was wary of sharing my real name or location. Pseudonyms and purposefully vague references to where I lived were the way to go.
A funny thing happened in the last decade-ish, though. Some of these Internet People ™ became longtime friends. When I’m frustrated, afraid, lonely, happy or need advice they’re only an email or phone call away. I’m as close to many of them as I am to those I see in person far more often.
In my experience the fear of online friendships often comes from the idea that there’s only one way to do it. Either you have local friends or you have Internet People ™ who live states, provinces, countries away. There seems to be little sense of how much gray area there is between the two or how the medium matters less than what we do for one another.
I wonder if part of this is a cultural or generational difference. People who grew up with BBSing or the Internet seem to be more comfortable with the social aspects than those who were introduced to it later. (There are many exceptions to this, of course! They’re just general group trends I’ve noticed.)
These are my fragmented thoughts about the communities that are forming and have formed online. What do you see?