A guest post from my good friend Lucy Dorrington from The Parent Game blog.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about online friendships. It’s a difficult subject, because for some people it conjures images of sinister predators, hiding behind faked images of sweet teenagers. This image is very real and cannot be underestimated. The internet is a dangerous place and it is becoming more and more relevant to educate our young people about the dangers. Actually, not just our young people. It is a habit we all need to get into, where we don’t assume that the picture we are seeing actually represents the person we are talking to. It is natural to associate the face with the voice, as it were, and I think a lot of the time, this is where the danger lies. We have to remember that you can be anyone you like with the shield of anonymity the World Wide Web offers and this is particularly relevant where children are concerned. Additionally, anonymity can give rise to some nasty cases of bullying and ‘keyboard warriors’ and I think it’s vitally important to educate children from an early age in the appropriate way to behave online. If you wouldn’t say it in a real-life situation, don’t say it at all.
Copywrite Stuart Miles - Shutterstock
However, I did want to talk a little about some of the benefits of being able to reach out to people online. There are many examples of people being offered support and generosity in times of need, through online initiatives. The most famous recently was probably the case of Alan Barnes, a pensioner who was viciously attacked and robbed. He made a friend for life in Katie, a lady he had never met, who raised £330,000 with an online campaign that captured the hearts of the nation. Just yesterday, Ali Campbell and Astro, from UB40, were lucky enough to get to meet the amazingly brave and beautiful Nicola Moore, through a Facebook campaign which was seen by 2.5 million people in just 24 hours.
Even my own blog saw some success, when I launched what was meant to be a small charity venture back in 2013. I still haven’t met the lady I started the campaign for, but it all started when she lost her baby very suddenly when he arrived too early. We were both in the same Facebook group, just a group of like-minded people who liked to chat. People from all over the country, with different lifestyles and interests, but a shared love of chatting and being silly and, in many cases, a reason for not being able to go out often to socialise in the ‘normal’ way. You can read more about what happened here but, basically, I started a Facebook page to give Lisa’s friends and family an opportunity to do something to try to help her in her grief. The idea was to raise £100 to give to her for the hospital where her son was treated. Within the week, we had raised £300 and we went on to raise £2,000 which she recently presented to Addenbrookes for their neonatal ward. It just brought out the best in so many people, there were donations offered from companies and small businesses of items to sell, lovely messages of support, gifts of cash from strangers who had been through something similar.
Copywrite Beerkoff - Shutterstock
The point I’m trying to make is, what a wonderful place the internet can be. Be safe, in the same way you would be anywhere else. You wouldn’t get chatting to a stranger in a café and tell him where you lived, you wouldn’t give your bank details to a stranger on the phone, so have some common sense and always let your brain give it the once-over before you commit to anything that might be a risk. NEVER give out personal details, NEVER give out your address, unless you are 100% confident you know the person and don’t hand over cash unless you can be sure you know where it’s going. Without doing any of those things, though, people all over the world are throwing off the shackles of distance, illness or money constraints and finding ways to make friends and enjoy some good company and enjoying a new kind of social freedom that has possibly been denied them for a very long time. How amazing is that? It’s about time we celebrated all that is good about Social Media and its online communities. Every situation will have its negative side, but let’s not forget the good it can do.