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Internet Security Basics – Virtual Friends

December 20, 2012

online friends and internet relations

In this article we focus on online friends, especially on dangers connected with people we know only from the Internet.

Who is a virtual friend

Friends are people you know and are on good terms with. When it comes to virtual friends, the definition is slightly different.

Virtual friends are people who spend time with one another on the Internet, communicating via email, chat rooms, instant messaging, gaming, and social networking, among others.  True virtual friends are never in the same physical presence of one another. All of their interactions take place in the virtual world of the Internet.

The Web has made building virtual friendships easy. People often feel less inhibited connecting with someone online rather than in person. Many individuals get a real sense of freedom when expressing their thoughts and emotions online. Many virtual friends share things in writing that they would never say out loud in a conversation. This type of communication can lead to a sense of closeness and trust quite quickly between virtual friends. Gamers and social network enthusiasts can attest to that fact.

The question is what do people really know about their virtual friends? Internet users can only imagine who their virtual friends actually are in real life. People often create a separate persona of themselves online, while keeping their real life and, in some cases, their true identity a secret.

There has been more than one cautionary tale about virtual friends deciding to meet in person. From simple disappointment to outright dislike, abuse, and even death, in-person encounters between virtual friends can result in serious consequences. This is why it is always wise to follow a few basic rules when engaging in a virtual friendship.

Rules to Abide by with Virtual Friends

  • Be cautious about what is shared.  This includes everything. Whether it is personal information, work-related issues or free-time activities, all of these areas could be exploited by a so-called virtual friend.
  • Set boundaries. Online friendships may develop and accelerate fast. Issues with your real-world relationships could be affected, especially if an exorbitant amount of time is spent with virtual friends and the conversation ventures into subjects you wouldn’t want your family, friends or co-workers to read.
  • Investigate. Before communicating on a personal level with a virtual friend, find out as much information as possible. Check names, photos, hometowns, dates of birth, etc. on various servers and search engines/browsers. Be sure these virtual people exist and haven’t lied about their identities.
  • Know the risks. Every email sent, every document uploaded, every photo or video posted are just data. This data is stored on a server. Every server has an owner who can access the data. Good server providers keep your data safe. However, if communicating with virtual friends on an untrusted forum, the information may be abused quite easily. Remember what you write to virtual friends and where you write it.

Report Abusive Behavior

When communicating online with a virtual friend, keep in mind you really don’t know who they are. If you realize that some of your virtual friends are trying to abuse or have abused information about you or any other person you know, report it to the proper authorities. This may mean calling the server owner,  service provider, or the police, depending on the severity of the breach. By providing such information you can help a lot of people stay safe, including yourself.

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