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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2269594-to-be-online
Rated: 13+ · Monologue · Internet/Web · #2269594
how much should you trust others on the internet?
This is NOT a creative writing piece.
It is a monologue/personal story/reflection/discussion about privacy and where it leads...
when you're online, meeting strangers, and exchanging information that connects back to you.

Written March 19-20, 2022
(Edited afterwards)



TABLE OF CONTENTS

- Personal background

- Initial thoughts
- Does it matter?
- What I've seen


- What to say
- Closing notes


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PERSONAL BACKGROUND

I have never grown up with social media. My parents simply never allowed it when I was younger. No facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat, pinterest, anything. I lived a rather closed-off life in that regard. My parents value privacy, particularly my dad, and so they knocked that off the table before I even asked about it. My sister tried to get a couple apps at some point, and proceeded to get grounded for a week or two, and we never get grounded.

However, 2020 caused some... disruptions. In the extra time I had, I started to seek out other things to do. I wasn't exactly lonely, but talking to people for fun is never a bad thing, and I took the opportunity. The chat features intrigued me. I could be talking with people that live hours, even timezones, away from me. People I would never meet, never see, really never encounter again.



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INITIAL THOUGHTS

So... the question is, what should you, ideally, tell others online? Some information is functional, other pieces more heartfelt, some doesn't matter at all. But, should you come across unfriendly members, some could expose you as you are in your normal life.

When you make an account for your school, a club, etc, it doesn't matter. They already know you as part of their community, you've seen them in-person, maybe don't put your house address, but otherwise there's really nothing worth hiding. It's naturally out there and you know that same information on everyone around you. It's not even intimate or anything, it's just the standard for being in the same area. People work with faces and full names. People compliment clothes and design projects together. You don't "know" everyone deeply, but you can pull context and judge from their actions and the way they talk. People can easily discuss events going on in the county or a favorite restaurant they've been to. It's not a privacy issue at all; I live in this city, and so do you. No drama involved.

If you create an online profile on your own time, on this site, discord, social media, or somewhere else, suddenly you're not the "you" people see normally. You are an account picture, you are the username/nickname displayed on your profile. For your picture, you can pick a photo of you... OR you can pick a photo of your cat, a picture of a flower, a vacation photo, a movie reference, some artwork you found online, anything else! For your name, you can have your real name... OR you can have a nickname, a name you've always wanted to have, a word you like, a funny reference, also anything else! Perhaps there is a bio section on the platform you're on, and again you can fill that out however you'd like. If you don't like your birth name, or the photos you have of yourself, why not dodge that?

Why be purely you from real life, when you can be more creative?
You are only what you say you are, and there is both power and danger in that.


DOES IT MATTER?

Everyone you find online is connected to a location, a home, they are a physical person somewhere on this Earth. If you find someone annoying, threatening, or you just don't like them, obviously you don't want them to bother you at your house. For in-person situations, general location and your physical appearance is natural, you can't avoid it, and you probably don't need to anyways. Online... you still don't want them near your house of course, and that gets broadened to location pretty often. It's not weird for someone else in your city to know you live in that city, but it might be disturbing that some stranger across the world knows the exact city you live in. There would be no reason you would need to or want to tell them this information, right?

The actual odds of someone harming you with said information seem low, especially when they would have to spend the money to travel to you from wherever they are. However, people can get doxxed or otherwise exposed, and that is not pretty. Internet predators exist, and a great deal of those online are minors. They are vulnerable. The question begs... why do others even need to know? Or is it overly protective to hide everything? Do you say certain things openly, wait for someone to ask, only tell after you trust them, or perhaps never say at all?

Some information has merit for being practical. In a friendship with someone, you'd like to know their age, their gender, and maybe their timezone (so you don't try to start a conversation when it's two in the morning for them). It can be nice to compare cultures and experiences from there. Sometimes people can send photos of pets or a sunset, harmless images that are personal but don't give anyone means to track you down.

In most online situations, I'd consider myself quite cautious, always skeptical at first. Phone numbers have area codes, so it's not great to share those. If you send photos, look over them for items of local relevance (car license plates, pet collar tags, posters, logos on t-shirts, whatever it is). Don't be foolish and try to review what you send carefully. If you're telling someone about a club you're in, an official club, check and make sure it's not a local group before sending the name of it. If it is, just don't say the name. It's ridiculously simple and yet also complicated.


WHAT I'VE SEEN

In messaging platforms, people often genuinely want to talk and build friendships, at least in concept. When you meet someone, if you get past the first few conversations, you might talk to them for months, maybe longer (I wouldn't know yet). People have a whole range of perspectives on privacy. Some will be hesitant about saying their age or gender, while I've had others literally tell me their full name, country, and send a photo of themselves. I get labelled as secretive at times, for not revealing these things. My stance is, if we're going to argue and part ways, I don't want you walking away with information you could use against me. It's purely in terms of vulnerability, and of course it sucks to tell someone a personal secret or story, only to find out that they are not who you thought they were.

You can often look up keywords on messages. There are websites that can log IP addresses for you, meaning that if you set up a link and can persuade someone to click that link (or if they persuade you to!), you can see their IP address. IP addresses matter because you can search up someone's city based on theirs. Is there a way to be safe from this? Yes, just don't click suspicious links and/or use a VPN. Many apps will never directly reveal your IP address, but if you leave the app and visit a site, you're on your own.


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WHAT TO SAY

You might not like this answer, but it really depends. For those I've met that have told me full names and countries, I still can't (and wouldn't want to) do anything with that information other than keep it for myself. The worse someone can do is dox you, or find information you didn't want them to know. This concerns some people more than others.

Depending where you live, how much of a digital record you have, and how concerned you are about being anonymous, you might want to say or not say some details. Should you have a social media account with a similar name, people can find that. If you live in a small town, you might want to broaden it to a state or country. It's a debate of whether you want to be seen from a blank slate, without initial judgment, or genuinely, as you are in real life.

Asking someone's age, gender, and timezone is completely practical. If you and someone else get along well, you want to know when it's a good time to text them, if they're a boy or girl, and if you two have an awkward age gap or not. That's logical to me, and most people are comfortable saying those. If someone asks for your name or a photo of you, only offer those if you have some faith in them, and if you feel safe doing so.


CLOSING NOTES

You can affect others in ways you wouldn't expect. Some people take online messages casually and lightheartedly, others might take them to heart. Be kind, thoughtful, and self-aware. Like with anything, don't do things you know you'll regret. Anytime you're talking, that someone else is also watching their device, typing a response to you. Maybe in the end, both of you care for each other, only one does, or neither of you care once things have run their course.

Others can change you in ways you wouldn't expect. If someone cusses at you, acts insensitive, or imposes opinions on you, label them as a bad match for you and move on. Don't take everything too personally. People might not mean what you think they mean, and no one is in the same context as you. There are differences in personality, respect, and motivations. Sometimes it helps to know the difference, other times you should just make a mental note if you think they don't mean well.

If someone makes you uncomfortable, you have every right to leave the conversation, and never talk to them again. Trust your intuition if a person is acting out of line. If you're a kindhearted individual, think about if that's something you would say. If it's not, why? If someone has a questionable username or a weird profile picture, that doesn't guarantee you two won't get along, but the hint it makes about their overall personality might be helpful to pay attention to. Never stay in a conversation or reveal things you shouldn't out of guilt or pressure from someone else.

Being online is a rollercoaster. You meet someone and you're visibly excited to connect, yet you will also be let down by many you meet. Not everyone is meant to be, but you can learn along the way, so you'll be better prepared when you do click with someone. I won't sugarcoat it, finding someone you like online, especially if you're picky, is really hard to do. People will fall through the cracks, probably for months. If you feel like you're in a bubble, and relying on a couple people that you have significant doubts about, don't stay there. Step out. Don't restrict yourself if you feel stuck. Always be open-minded, just not careless or foolish.



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