The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Let’s be honest here. We all use the media for pretty much everything. To communicate, to write, to publish, to play, to learn, you name it. The online world is a pretty incredible place when you think about it. You can do everything there, because it has everything. The opportunities are endless.
As incredible as it is though, it can also be kind of terrifying, especially when you’re communicating with somebody who’s a total stranger.
I feel like we’ve all been given the same lecture as kids, the “Do not talk to strangers” one. That lecture doesn’t just go for the real world. It also applies for the endless world of the internet as well. And for a great reason.
What’s the reason?
You don’t know who’s really behind the screen.
I don’t know about you, but I find that terrifying.
I know, I probably sound like some kind of mother hen, but hear me out. Think about it for a second. What if that handsome boy you’ve been chatting with and started dating was actually an old man in his fifties, seeking his own personal gain? What if you’re speaking to an assaulter of some kind? A stalker? A thief? God forbid, what if it was a murderer?
I nearly fell victim to this one time.
I was 15 years old. At that age, most of us would be pretty naïve. I had downloaded a social media app of sorts (for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called but I know it had something to do with Harry Potter) that allowed me to not only post things regarding my favourite fandom, but also allowed me to interact with people of the same interests. I thought it would be fun. I was eager to socialize with people and have great debates over this fandom, something I could hardly do in the real world.
It didn’t occur to me that there would be quite a few sketchy people using the same application.
One person messaged me one day on this app. I opened it. It was a simple, “Hello, how are you?” At the time, I had already talked with a few people on the app and the conversations were always fun. So I didn’t think this would be any different. I messaged him back with a hello of my own. We had casual conversation for a little bit, but I don’t even think either of us mentioned the fandom. You’d think that on a Harry Potter app, you’d find people who would just want to talk about said fandom.
Well, eventually, the guy asked me what my hobbies were. I responded with, “Reading and writing stories, listening to music, baking, etc.” You know, the usual. I asked him what his hobbies were.
“Reading and having sex.”
I kid you not, that was the response I got. I just stared at my screen, unsure of what to respond with other than, “Okayyyy.” Then, from there on, his questions got very personal, none of which I felt comfortable responding to. Questions about my sexuality, if I was a virgin, if I was dating somebody, that sort of thing.
I started to think back on the lectures my parents gave me about social media. “Do not give any information about yourself to anybody you don’t know online.” With that in mind, I refused to respond to any of this guy’s questions. I told him, “I’m sorry, I’m not comfortable sharing that information with you.” He kept asking me anyway, and I swear he even asked me to marry him at some point. I obviously said no. He got upset with me and didn’t message me back for a few days.
After that, I thought that was the end of it. But he did message me one more time. The message was so disgusting and vulgar, I literally refuse to say what it was here. After reading that message, I finally blocked him and ended up deleting the app because I was so freaked out. Why I didn’t block him sooner, I really don’t know. I should have.
The experience for me was terrifying. What was even more terrifying was finally understanding that this experience was mild compared to so many others who trusted somebody they never met online and ended up with ruined lives. I thank my lucky stars everyday that I remembered the lessons my parents taught me and listened to them at the last minute. God knows what could’ve happened if I cooperated with that creep.
So now, I’m going to reiterate that message because it cannot be stressed enough. Be careful when you’re chatting online with somebody you’ve never met. Trust your instincts. If it feels wrong, then turn away and move on with your life. You’re not being rude by saying no. You’re protecting yourself. Don’t ever let your guard down. It’s scary enough in the real world. There’s more access in the online world.
Be careful in the online world, my friends. Because you never really know who’s behind the other screen.