Wednesday, December 12, 2012

moral panic: going online

It was a sunny afternoon in April 2010, during my first trip to Philadelphia and my first trip by myself. I was there for my first-ever meeting of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America. As I was planning my trip there I remembered that I was Facebook friends with a guy from Philadelphia, so I sent him a message asking him about things I could do and places I could visit there during my weekend adventure. Now, we didn't know each other and had never met, and I usually don't befriend people on Facebook unless I know them. Perhaps I accepted his friend request because I read in his info that he was half Puerto Rican, and I also saw that he was Catholic and we shared many interests. Other than that, I can't really remember how or why we became friends. Nevertheless, we began talking over Facebook and one day I decided to be brave and ask him if he wanted to meet for lunch when I got to Philly. He agreed. 

Fast forward to that day in Philly and I was a nervous wreck. Why did I ask a stranger to meet me for lunch? What if he is a psychopath serial killer? Then I thought, "well, at least we're meeting during daylight and in a public space. He won't try to kill me in the presence of others, and if he does, there will be witnesses." I know it seems very extreme to think those things but as brave and risk-taking as I wanted to be, part of me was scared that he could be one of those seemingly nice guys who end up doing terrible things. I felt confused because I wouldn't usually do something like that but it also felt right. to my relief, he was a very nice gentleman, he wasn't a serial killer, and we ended up becoming very good friends for a while. 

After a couple of months of "dating," communicating via Skype and phone, and going back to Philly for the summer, we ended things, but I always look at that day we met and ask myself "What were you thinking?" I am very glad that everything turned out alright for me, but it could've been completely different. This guy could've been someone completely different to what appeared on Facebook, and that is something everyone is at risk of discovering when "meeting" people online. In this case, my concern was about someone possibly harming me, but other people might fear that whoever is on the other side of the screen is not who they say they are. 

This is the case of a new TV show on MTV called "Catfish" in which people finally get to meet the person they have been dating strictly online. While a few have found that the other person was real and truly cared about them, others have found that their partner was actually someone completely different. In some cases the person was pretending to be someone else to get back at the other one (in one case a girl wanted revenge because another girl dated her man) and others simply wanted to be a different person. By pretending to be other people they hurt others, and while in these cases the victims are adults, it is still worrisome that people are able to deceive others and use online social media to take advantage of others.  

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