One aspect of the online community that surprises me is how inclined to trust other people’s motives we can be at times. I know of no one who would publish their Social Security number, credit/debit card number, or bank account information online. Ahhh, but we are quick to offer our friendship to others and truthfully, in doing so, can sometimes be lulled into a false sense of security with that person. Do we inadvertantly give more information about ourselves than is safe when we do so?
The first time I ever disclosed my full name was when I joined Twitter. I saw no harm in it since my last name is a common one in this area, plus there are 5 others with the same name here. I am apparently the only one with an online presense since no one has ever contacted me claiming to know who I am. Even knowing all that, the first time a fellow Twitter member used my first name in a tweet, my reaction was to question myself as to whether or not I’d done the right thing. Having had an experience with someone online who was a master manipulator of peoples emotions in a negative way, I should have thought my action through much more carefully.
Sometimes, who we are as people isn’t evident through our writing. Online, that is the only way we have of deciding whether we wish to befriend another blogger on any level. No matter how good we believe we are at reading between the lines, someone is always better at creating those lines. Manipulating the emotions of others is an easy thing to do, for awhile. Eventually the manipulator will overplay their hand and the truth comes crashing down on them. Unfortunately, it crashes down onto the people who cared about them as well. Usually, the only one who really cares about the loss of trust is the person experiencing that loss. The manipulator goes on to another group of people and continues with their habit without a care in the world. “It’s the internet” they say, “don’t take it seriously.” They appear to believe the information superhighway is a fantasy world in which people should have no emotions.
I suppose that what happens online is not as serious as a heart attack, however, no one really knows what the person behind the other screen is dealing with in their lives. Stressful events like death, the break up of a long term relationship, even the birth of a new child can make people emotionally vulnerable to someone inclined to manipulate. Even when most people we encounter are honest in nature, that one bad experience can seriously harm our other online relationships. It can even cause people to stop communicating with others online.
Ultimately we can only be responsible for our own behavior. I’ve been on the receiving end of one of those master manipulators at least once. I learned that I needed to be more careful about extending trust to people I meet online. I also didn’t allow it to interfere in my enjoyment of meeting new people. I am more wary, but always respectful and kind. The shame doesn’t belong to those who were fooled, it belongs squarely on those who intentionally try to fool us. Sadly, there are plenty of that kind out there. Whether they do so for attention, or in the hopes of financial gain somehow, only they know. I don’t need to know why someone does that kind of thing, I only need to be aware that it can happen and protect myself accordingly.