Digging through my archives I managed to stumble across one of my earliest papers. Maybe from the 2010-ish timeframe. It might actually be a speech I gave to an Honor Society in my freshman year of college – our theme for that year was the dissemination of information and we focused on the internet.
This paper is a very general “Be careful out there!” type of PSA, and it sounds a bit like what you’d tell a room of middle schoolers. Cute in its way.
Stranger Danger in the Online World
By now we’re all used to the luxury of communicating online. By using the internet we’re not limited by geography, we can talk to friends down the street or family members overseas instantly. By typing in a few keywords we can find people who share our interests and hobbies and we never have to leave our living room. Too shy to mingle but looking for love? Don’t worry, the internet’s got you covered! There’s a dating site for every lifestyle from those looking for serious romances to those looking for extramarital affairs.
And adults aren’t the only ones surfing the web to meet new people. Teens often use social networking sites in order to make new friends and keep in touch with current ones. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 55% of all American teens use online social networking sites, and of that 46% of teens use the sites to make new friends.
We do it because it’s easy and it’s safe. The fear of rejection is almost nonexistent. If we don’t get a reply to one of our emails we can just pretend they didn’t see it or it somehow got lost in the series of tubes that makes up the internet. We move on to the next profile that catches our eye. It’s easier to be brave online. It’s easier to be ourselves or the selves we wish we could be because online you can’t see the other person and they can’t see you unless you want them to.
That’s what most of the internet is comprised of. People who are just looking for other people like them to chat with. New friends with similar interests. However, because of the anonymity, there is a certain risk involved. A risk you take whenever you reply to that online stranger’s message just like there’s a risk in real life if you accept a ride home from someone you really don’t know all that well.
People online lie. They post pictures of themselves from years and years ago that look nothing like themselves presently, or of people who aren’t really them at all. Sometimes men pretend to be women and women pretend to be men. They lie about their age, their names, their locations. Usually, it’s harmless. Maybe they’re just protecting their own identities. Sometimes, though, it’s because of something more sinister. Online predators will lie about their personal details so you will trust them. They’ll mold themselves into a person that you’ll feel comfortable confiding in, giving things to, and meeting.
We often hear about pedophiles grooming their victims over a period of time. Online scam artists will often do the same thing to adults. For example, one online scam involves the scam artist using a fake photo of an attractive person with a child and posting it on online dating sites claiming to be a single parent looking for love. They may claim to live in some familiar nearby city, but in reality, they live overseas. They’ll spend several weeks courting a person online, developing a relationship with them when quite suddenly an emergency will strike involving the child and the scam artist will need a hefty sum of cash for the poor child. Will their brand new one true love be so kind as to send a money order? This kind of scam can continue for ages until the victim finally catches on. Then it’s on to the next lonely heart.
The truth is if you lived in fear of predators and scam artists then you’d never get to enjoy the benefits of the internet and all the great dialogue taking place out there. So, how do you protect yourself from the few creeps seeking to ruin it for everybody? There’s no surefire way, and it really boils down to common sense. Keep personal information to yourself. Don’t create any screen names that use personal information such as your name or location. Create unique and hard to guess passwords, and don’t use the same password for every account. When posting things like status updates on Facebook or tweets don’t post anything that could draw attention to yourself and make you seem vulnerable such as your emotional state or anything sexual in nature. Keep your money to yourself. Don’t go giving it out to people no matter what kind of tearjerkers they throw your way. And finally, if you decide to meet someone in person, meet them in a public place and make sure someone else knows where you’ll be.
55% of online teens use social networks and 55% have created online profiles; older girls predominate. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Jan 7, 2007. Web. Nov 1, 2010. [http://www.pewinternet.org/Press-Releases/2007/55-of-online-teens-use-social-networks-and-55-have-created-online-profilesolder-girls-predominate.aspx]
Constabulary, Hampshire. Police Warning Over Internet Dating Scam On The Isle of Wight. Oct 22, 2010. Web. Nov 1, 2010. [http://ventnorblog.com/2010/10/22/police-warning-over-internet-dating-scam-on-the-isle-of-wight/]
Morgan, Jayne. How We Set About Trapping Chatroom ‘Groomers’. BBC News. Oct 19, 2010. Web. Nov 1, 2010. [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-11566173]
Negotiating Social Media Space. TMCnet. Oct 31, 2010. Web. Nov 1, 2010. [http://callcenterinfo.tmcnet.com/news/2010/10/31/5104592.htm]
Stranger Danger: The Real Risks. LMK: Life Online by Girl Scouts and Windows. Web. Nov 1, 2010. [http://lmk.girlscouts.org/Online-Safety-Topics/Online-Sexual–Predators/The-Facts/Stranger-Danger–The-Real-Risks.aspx]
Swiech, Paul. Local Conference Aims at Technology, Dating Safely. Oct 5, 2010. Web. Nov 1, 2010. [http://www.pantagraph.com/news/local/article_09bfed6e-d0ce-11df-b725-001cc4c002e0.html]
Thompson, Connie. Online Dating Scammers Giving Love a Bad Name. KomoNews. Oct 18, 2010. Web. Nov 1, 2010. [http://www.komonews.com/news/consumer/105229408.html]
Whysall, Mark. Singles Lured into Online Dating Scams. ADI News. Oct 25, 2010. Web. Nov 1, 2010. [http://www.adi-news.com/singles-lured-into-online-dating-scams/25689/]