by Pierre Le Roux
The Internet has become such an integral part of all our lives that very few of us can do without it. It has made our daily lives easier and the world accessible to all. Social Networking Sites has also become a tool used by many to stay in touch with friends and family, meet new people and maybe even find that all elusive soul mate. However, with the good also comes the bad: Some people use the Internet with malicious intent, some are predators feeding off the gullible and others want to satisfy their own demented fantasies leaving a trail of virtual victims in their data tracks. This led me to ask: Do we really know who we are chatting to on the other side of our Internet cable?
Last week I reported on the suicide of a person that was one of my Facebook friends. We chatted a few times, he had mentioned wanting to come out of the closet and sometime during December 2009, whilst doing “cyber housekeeping”, I deleted him as a friend as I had reached my friend limit on that site. Learning of his suicide I was devastated as is evident from my blog post “Rather Have a Gay Child than a Dead Child?”. The issue of gay teen suicide has long been a matter of grave concern and an issue very dear to me. By Friday it was revealed that the whole thing was a hoax. By Saturday it was confirmed through the media. I was shocked, angry, felt abused and also embarrassed for being gulable and deceived to this extend. The perpetrator of this hoax had made a mockery of teen suicide, tarnished the image of the gay community and damaged the integrity of my blog!
From reports it was learned that the profile was fake and possibly as many as 3 other profiles are linked to the same account. This amount to 4 profiles (possibly more) all managed by the same person who nobody knows, have ever met and the motive behind the hoax and future malevolent endeavours of this person is anybody’s guess. Over 1200 people we distraught with grief, including myself. Over 1200 people were lied to and upset over the “suicide” of a very convincing and totally fictional character.
This is nothing new as many people misrepresent themselves on the Internet: The old socially maladjusted overweight guy posing as a twenty year old hunk, the fourteen year old girl pretending to be 18, the sexual offender looking for his next victim. We all know they are out there, and chances are you have chatted to one of them. The anonymity the Internet provides makes it very easy for any person to create a whole different persona for themselves – the person they wish they were or the shadow that lurks in the deepest disturbing fantasies they no longer can or have to suppress. In this virtual realm they can say and do things they would never do in the real world. They can live vicariously through their alter ego and when they tire of it just discard it or in this case kill it off. However, not all such instances are innocent and some of these individuals pose a severe threat.
It is well known that paedophiles prowl around in Chat Rooms and Social Networking Sites, patiently enticing their potential victims into their web with attractive lies. They gain their victims trust and before long the damage is done and a child is hurt. The frightening aspect is that some victims never even know they have been done any harm. I learned of a paedophile that pretended to be the same age as his victims and convinced them to send him pornographic photos of themselves all of which ended up on several child pornography websites. Once these images are on the web there is no way of stopping its distribution after it has been downloaded! This does not only happen to children and many adults have been victimized in the same manner.
The virtual dating scene is another sea of data to be sailed with caution. Who’s to say the profile picture you see is indeed the person you will meet? How much can one really learn about another person just from e-mails and online chatting? I know of a few people who have met the love of their lives on the Internet, and yes I am sure there are many success stories. However, horror stories are also abundant. It’s easier for some people to communicate over the Internet and have a whole relationship that includes cybersex with another person. The fantasy of a perfect partner sustain these relationships but once the relationship is brought into reality it soon disintegrates as pressures of the real world and real needs burns away the illusion. Some discover truths about their online partner’s shady past too late, some people gained stalkers instead of lovers, and some people received regret instead of love.
I too now have my own Internet horror story of deception and embarrassment. For some reason I believe, deep down, we want to trust people and believe what they say is true. Does this make us gullible? Maybe it does! We sometimes forget as we enter the virtual world real human beings also venture there with us and we can’t see them as they truly are. In some instances only a computer screen, keyboard and an internet connection stands between us and monsters.