Ok, I can’t help it. I worry. There are dangerous people out there, and you guys are at a vulnerable age, especially vulnerable because being gay, lesbian or bisexual can make you feel especially lonely and in need of friends. So I’ve just put together a few common sense reminders for all of you to consider as you surf the web.
The most important thing to remember is that when you're online in any kind of a public forum, you're out in public and anyone can read whatever you post. You should never post anything on the internet that you wouldn't want known to the public at large. You should also remember that people you meet in cyberspace might not be who they seem to be.
1. Keep Your Identity Private
If you're in any type of public forum, avoid giving out your full name, your mailing address, your telephone number, the name of your school, or any other information that could help someone determine your actual identity. The same applies to your family and friends. Never reveal anything about other people that could possibly get them into trouble. What I like to do is to keep an email address that I use for people I don’t know well, one that I can just dump if some psycho starts to hassle me. You can get free email addresses from Yahoo, AOL, gmail or dozens of other places. Once you’re sure a person is okay, you can give them a more personal e-mail. You should still be careful about giving out your phone number or address, even if you’ve known a person online for awhile. The bottom line is, use caution. Online predators know know how to play on the feelings of lonely kids. That’s what makes them so dangerous.
2. Never Get Together With Someone You "Meet" Online
The biggest danger to your safety is if you get together with someone you "meet" online. Remember, you never know for certain if people you meet online are who they say they are, and pedophiles are experts at manipulation. They will take full advantage of your feelings of loneliness and isolation, and will work toward gaining your trust, then trying to get you to meet with them on
the sly. They will try to steer you away from telling your parents, bringing a friend, or anything else that may expose them. Keep this in mind when you’re considering meeting someone you only know online. The more secretive they want to be, the more red flags should go up. Just keep this in mind guys (and gals): if you’re a gay (lesbian, bi, whatever) teen, in the closet to everyone, lonely and depressed and desperate for a friend (or boyfriend, girlfriend), you are the ideal target for a predator. The internet can be a great tool for you to meet others in the same boat as you, but be very, very careful!
3. Never Respond to E-mail, Chat Comments, or Newsgroup Messages That Are Hostile, Belligerent, Inappropriate, Or In Any Way Make You Feel Uncomfortable
It isn't your fault if you get a message that is mean or in any way makes you feel uncomfortable. If you get such a message, don't respond. Instead, show it to your parents or a trusted adult to see if there is anything you can do to make it stop. Sending a response just encourages the person. It’s easy these days to pick up a stalker, and once you have one, they can be difficult to shake. Don’t try and handle it yourself. Seek some help from someone you trust.
I know that everyone thinks they’ve got a handle on all this stuff, and yet every day more and more kids are victimized by predators. So be careful, and if anyone has a problem of this kind (or any kind really), and they don’t have anyone to talk to about it, contact me at my forum or via private message, and I’ll see if I can hook you up with a resource in your area.
Another article on the subject of predators will follow shortly.