As we discussed in the previous post (RELATIONSHIPS -1), one of the most common platforms to make short term/quick relationships is the internet. But this is an area that merits great care and caution.

Some time back an incident happened that really set me thinking. A believer friend of mine along with his wife started visiting online chat rooms with the intention of having fun and maybe making a few friends. It turned out that these people started chatting with a female online and she started sharing intimate stuff with them. There was only one problem – the profile put forth by my friend and his wife was that of a single male! Days passed and the female at the other end started sending messages of love this way…and my friends had a lot of fun at her expense….until one day they opened their front door to find this female right in front of their house saying that she had left everything for my friend. She was wild when she found out that my friend was married and got wilder when she found out that she had been made a fool of… It took a lot of trouble for my friend to get this problem over with.

I remember another time when I went to visit a young professing believer at his house. The boy’s parent’s directed me upstairs to the boy’s room and I walked up the stairs. As I neared the room I could hear sounds that were a mixture of muffled laughter, excitement, etc. I came and stood beside the doorway and found that the boy was in video chat with another girl that I knew. The webcam was pointed straight at the ‘boy of the house’ but outside the field on both sides of the room were his friends. The girl was  showing the boy ‘something’ that I am sure she wouldn’t want anybody else to see not knowing that there were so many viewers at the other end. Just think what this incident would have done to her reputation?

These incidents above might seem funny to you – but at the time it happened it wasn’t funny for any of the people concerned. It might seem almost unbelievable but I want you to know it is one hundred percent true. And these are the least of problems that could have occurred.

Playing around and trying on different characteristics are part of the fun of an online life. You can change your look or the way you act and present yourself to others, and you can learn more about things that interest you. Your online identity may be different from your real-world identity — the way your friends, parents, and teachers think of you — and some parts of it may be entirely made up. Maybe you’re a little shy in real life, but online you’re a jokester and your avatar is a famous comedian. Maybe your classmates think of you as a cricket star, but online you indulge your passion for football and environmentalism.

You can have fun, acquire knowledge, make friends, build business,…on the net. The possibilities are endless. BUT THE DANGERS ARE ALSO AS REAL. From the first time you log on to a social networking site like Facebook or the like, pick a screen name for instant messaging (IM), or post to a blog on your favorite band, you’re creating an online identity.

There is a need for caution and care for you to retain control and avoid trouble. Here are some tips that might help you in safer use of such media whereby you can protect your online identity and reputation.

  • Remember that nothing is temporary online. The virtual world is full of opportunities to interact and share with people around the world. It’s also a place where nothing is temporary and there are no “take-backs.” A lot of what you do and say online can be retrieved online even if you delete it — and it’s easy for others to copy, save, and forward your information. Be careful about what you put on the Internet, because you never know who is looking at what you have on there or how it might be used.
  • Mark your profiles as private. Anyone who accesses your profile on a social networking site can copy or screen-capture information and photos that you may not want the world to see. Don’t rely on the site’s default settings. Read each site’s instructions or guidelines to make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep your material private.
  • If you change your email address be sure to update online profiles- or cancel old profiles before making the change. You may not be able to edit your profile if email addresses don’t match. And an old untended profile can attract hackers.
  • Safeguard your passwords and change them frequently. If someone logs on to a site and pretends to be you, they can abuse your ID and do damage to your reputation. Pick passwords that no one will guess (Try thinking of two utterly random nouns and mixing in a random number), and change them often. Never share them with anyone other than maybe a trusted family member. Not even your best friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend should know your private passwords!
  • Don’t post inappropriate or sexually provocative pictures or comments. Things that seem funny or cool to you right now might not seem so cool years from now — or when a teacher, admissions officer, or potential employer sees them. A good rule of thumb is: if you’d feel weird if your grandmother, parents, or best friend’s parents saw it, it’s probably not a good thing to post. Even if it’s on a private page, it could be hacked or copied and forwarded.
  • Don’t respond to inappropriate requests. Research shows that a high percentage of young people receive inappropriate messages and solicitations when they’re online. These can be scary, strange, and even embarrassing. If you are a young person and you feel harassed by a stranger or a friend online, tell an older person you trust immediately. It is never a good idea to respond. Responding is only likely to make things worse, and might result in you saying something you wish you hadn’t. There are sites to which you can report inappropriate online behavior. DO IT !
  • Don’t act online while emotionally upset. If you get the urge to fire off an angry IM or comment on a message board or blog, it’s a good idea to wait a few minutes, calm down, and remember that the comments may stay up (with your screen name right there) long after you’ve regained your temper and maybe changed your mind.
  • You might feel anonymous or disguised in chat rooms, social networks, or other sites — and this could lead to mean, insulting, or abusive comments toward someone else, or sharing pictures and comments you may later regret. We’ve all heard of cyber bullying, but most people think online bullying is something people do intentionally. But sharing stuff or dropping random comments when we’re not face to face with someone can hurt just as much, if not more. And it can damage how others see you if they find out. A good rule to remember: if you wouldn’t say it, show it, or do it in person, you probably don’t want to online.
  • Honor copyrights. It’s a good idea to learn about copyright laws and make sure you don’t post, share, or distribute copyrighted images, songs, or files. Sure, you want to share them, but you don’t want to accidentally do anything illegal that can come back to haunt you later.
  • Check your online state. Chances are, you’ve already checked your “digital footprint” — nearly half of all online users do. Try typing your screen name or email address into a search engine and see what comes up. That’s one way to get a sense of what others see as your online identity.

Dear young friend, if you have questions about the trail you’re leaving online, don’t be afraid to ask a trusted older person. Sure, you might know more about the online world than a lot of adults do, but they have life experience that can help.

Your online identity and reputation are shaped in much the same way as your real-life identity, except that when you’re online you don’t always get a chance to explain your tone or what you mean. Thinking before you post and following the same rules for responsible behavior online as you do offline can help you avoid leaving an online identity trail you regret.

Watch out for more regarding relationships in our next post.

God bless !


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