One of the odd things about the Internet is that so many people don’t quite seem to understand that it’s real. Sure, they realize that there’s a computer in front of them, a “series of tubes,” and then…it gets kind of foggy. It’s like they think there are magical pixies from the land of Lulz on the other end, as opposed to their family, friends, co-workers, and old boyfriends who are obsessively poring over their Facebook page.
Granted, they are aware that they do need to be careful about a few things: viruses, hackers, identity thieves, Nigerian princes who want to give them millions of dollars, all your standard stuff. But there are some lesser known dangers of the Internet that can steamroll your life like Paris Hilton stampeding towards a line of cocaine.
1) Your naked pictures and videos can end up on the Internet. You’d be surprised how many people have naked pictures of themselves. Maybe they’re guys like Anthony Weiner who have the mistaken impression that anyone wants to see their junk. Maybe they’re women who get a little excited at the idea of a man seeing them naked. Maybe they’re even a couple that wants to take it to the next level by filming themselves having sex to see if it looks more like a porn movie or two sea lions fighting under a blanket. Whatever the case may be, the problem is that in a digital age, these pictures and videos can get out to a much larger audience than originally intended. Just ask Anthony Weiner about that.
Personally, I once had a roommate call me in to look at some woman he’d met online who was trying to turn him on via webcam. I’ve also had more than one guy who broke up with his girlfriend who just flat out offered to show me naked pictures of her. One of them had dated the girl for almost two years. In all of those cases, the offers were completely unsolicited, so who knows how many other people got a look? I could tell you another half dozen disturbing stories about naked pictures (Yes, it’s really that common of an issue) — but instead, let me just say this: you’d be surprised at how often those pictures end up causing problems. Think very, very hard before you take those pictures in the first place because once they get out of your control, you’ll never get them back.
2) The Internet can get you fired. Ever had someone notice that you were posting on your blog during work hours and reported you to your boss? I have. It nearly got me fired. Ever known someone who was fired for even having a blog? There is someone talking about that on my Facebook page on the same day I am writing this column.
That actually happens more than you might think. The Internet’s full of small, vindictive, unbalanced and ugly people who don’t have the slightest qualms about using any and every tactic imaginable to go after people who irritate them. Does that include calling your boss? Yes, indeed. Could it include calling your boss and making up stories about you? That’s happened to multiple people that I know and it’s why I’d recommend that if possible, you should avoid sharing where you work with everyone on the Internet.
3) Everyone is not what they seem. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of people in real life that I first met on the net. The good news is that most of them were the same in person as they were on the Internet. However, that’s not always the case. Once, for example, I knew a “woman” whom I talked to occasionally for months. Later, I found out “she” is a guy. I never entirely understood the point of the deception. Another time, a friend of mine was considering moving to spend time with a guy she had a romantic connection with on the Internet. Then, she found out he had a heavy drug habit. Just last week, on my blog, I found out that one of my bloggers is a 4-person collective. And that’s not even getting into scary crazyland, which is inhabited by people like the Craigslist Killer. The point is, it’s very easy to hide a lot of truth about yourself on the Internet. You post what you want people to see, you project the image you want, and it’s very difficult for people to check behind you. Just remember that — before you make any big decisions that you could later come to regret.
4) Think before you post. You may think that the only people reading what you write on the Internet are your friends, but that’s not really true. That funny pic of you doing the faux lesbian thing on Facebook when you were drunk? That may not be so funny if your mom somehow sees it. Your quip about how you’d like to kill somebody also might not sound so fantastic if it’s read in a courtroom in front of a judge — and don’t think it could never end up there. The fact of the matter is, unless you really know what you’re doing, all it generally takes is a warrant from the police to track you down. Your weird inside joke on Twitter that makes you sound like a psycho? That may not look so cute when a woman you’re interested in reads your Twitter feed to get an idea of what you’re like.
Remember, folks, the Internet can be FOREVER and whatever dumb thing you do today may still show up when someone does a Google search for you a decade from now. Here’s a little secret: over the years, I’ve had multiple people write me and ask me to take down unflattering articles at Right Wing News because what I’d written was showing up in Google searches and they were afraid it would affect their chances to get a job. Most of the time, I did it, not because I had to, but because I tend to have some sympathy for ordinary people who get judged for the rest of their lives based on a stupid comment or mistake. However, not only were there times where I declined for whatever reason, there were other times when I Googled the person’s name and found another half dozen different articles covering the same ground. Once you get to that point, you’re screwed because there’s no chance that ALL of those people are going to show you a little mercy.
5) The Internet can eat up your life. Everybody, well, probably everybody has heard the most extreme stories. The guy who keeled over dead after playing 50 straight hours of Starcraft. How about the four month old who died while his parents were playing World of Warcraft together? The baby who starved to death, ironically, because her parents were online raising a virtual character?
The Internet doesn’t have to get that over-the-top to start impacting your life. I’ve known people who spent so much time talking with their pseudo-friends on different social networks that they ended up killing their real life friendships. I’ve known people who’ve gotten so into gaming that it has affected their performance at work. Once in my own life, I spent months wasting hours a day playing a game that I’d come to find tedious because I didn’t want to let my online friends down. Don’t let that be you. Use the Internet, but don’t let it use you.