Friend or Foe?

Why online friends are not as dangerous as they seem

Friend or Foe?

Marian Martínez, Staff Writer

A lot of us have grown up being warned by our parents that speaking to strangers is dangerous, and as technology has advanced, our parents have included online strangers in their warnings. They can disguise themselves as someone your age and may cause you harm. As we grew up, though, a lot of us lost that fear, and now speaking to strangers online is common. 

Online friends have always been a thing. Now more than ever though, with quarantine and the pandemic, we’ve found new ways to keep ourselves busy. I have met 15 new people during quarantine, and I know that a bunch of my real life friends have also met online friends. There’s always a risk once in a while, but generally speaking, making friends online isn’t as dangerous as our parents have made it out to be. At least not anymore.

According to an article on Her Campus, the writer takes note of how making friends online is easier than making friends in real life for some people. The writer does mention that a lot of our parents, and those members of the older generation, may not approve of, or understand, our online friend interactions because of “how quickly technology is evolving today.” Nevertheless, if the correct precautions are taken, there should be no reason why we shouldn’t be texting with people we don’t know in person.

While a lot of strangers online do end up being friendly, there is always a risk of being catfished.  Some people do end up being creeps sometimes, but it is usually easy to figure out if these people have bad intentions. Despite the advent of “child-grooming”, a lot of kids that grew up with an unsupervised use of the internet are now grown. They understand the situation better and are speaking out and warning others about making friends online safely.

There are several risks associated with making friends online, and adults aren’t wrong to be wary of online friendships, since even grownups are prone to fall for online scemes like the “Nigerian Prince Scam” by clicking on suspicious links.

Counselor Laura Angers writes that scams and catfishing are very successful because “you can never really be sure who is who in the digital world.” She speaks about the dangers of the internet for both adults and children, but she also states that “not everything about chatting with strangers online is bad” and that good and healthy relationships can be achieved. 

To be clear, I am not encouraging that teenagers should recklessly speak to strangers online. However, I am encouraging the use of social media to have fun, while still knowing the risks of doing so. You should also be aware of what to do to control certain situations before they get out of hand. Making friends is a great feeling, and you end up sharing fun times with them, in person and over the phone. Everyone should have a chance to meet new people and learn about them. 

Change can be scary, especially when everything moves too fast, but if we don’t change as the world and technology change, we fall behind and miss various opportunities to have fun and experience new things.

People my age understand the online friend “thing” better than a lot of our parents do. It really depends on personal preference. Now, adults who are reading this may ask themselves, why is a teenager telling you this if she doesn’t know anything about life?  The answer is that I’m awkward, and I have been able to make friends online, and so far, none of them are creeps. 

Nowadays, FaceTime and other live apps make it easier to see if a person is a friend or a foe. The settings of certain apps also allow kids to avoid going through something unwanted, and the block button, screenshotting, recording and reporting are all options available in mainstream apps.

There are several resources available to learn about child grooming. They include the basics of making friends safely, taking the safe steps in meeting new people, and knowing the signs of when an online relationship has become dangerous. Be sure to communicate with your kids, if you are a parent. Be sure to be wary of others online, if you are a kid and do not be reckless.

Know the risks and things you can do to be a good online friend and to find good online friends. Remember to make sure that there are also myths about the internet, and that the information you receive may be outdated. Do your research and stay safe!