Online friendships: ‘You’re there because you want to be’
As children, we often made our friends on playgrounds, sports fields, and classrooms.
We aligned ourselves with those who shared our personalities, hobbies, and talents.
But as teenagers, many of us seek out connections online, realizing that friendships over the Internet can be built on something different.
ARHS seniors Mackenzie Reinhold and Emily Jones are active to different degrees online. However, both students agree that friends they met over the Internet are indeed real friends.
“Some people say you can’t make real friends online, but it is possible,” Reinhold said. “Even if you’ve never seen them, you talk to them and you know their personality.”
Reinhold is involved in several online niches and has built a bit of a name for herself. However, she has not met any of her friends from the Internet in person yet.
Jones has only a few Internet friends that she keeps in contact with.
The most common virtual venues for making online friends are social networking services like Tumblr or Instagram, as well as online gaming servers.
Reinhold said that she frequents many sites including the site MSPARP, a roleplaying site for fans of the web comic Homestuck.
Reinhold also roleplays through Google+.
Role playing is when two or more people act online, often through chat rooms, and take on the roles of fictional characters.
These characters can come from anywhere, including videogames, books, shows or even one’s imagination.
Reinhold explained that part of the appeal of online interaction is that “in Amherst there are a lot of interesting people, [but] it can be difficult to find people who like things that you like. Sometimes you’ll be talking to someone [in person] and they’re bored out of their brains.”
Ninth grader Elijah Shersnow said that “in shared chatrooms or servers, you share a collective interest, and people that have similar interests are almost always the easiest people to make friends with.”
Users who are present in online communities are there because they want to be” and are genuinely interested in what is being said and done.
Friendships online are also appealing to those who feel anxious or shy about meeting new people.
“There is still anxiety, but less,” said Reinhold. “When there is shared unknowingness, you can work it out.”
Jones said that online friendships are easier both because there is less drama and because “You don’t have to face [the people] in real life.”
The sense of anonymity that the Internet has to offer is an additional plus. However, that same anonymity can hold risk and danger.
One risk Involved with Internet friendships is catfishing, situations in which Internet users create profiles built on false information with malicious intent toward others.
Jones said that she was aware of the dangers of meeting an online acquaintance in person for the first time.
“She could be a kidnapper for all I know,” she said.
Reinhold uses fake accounts that don’t have her real information as a security measure and is most concerned about users with bad intentions for her activities on Google+.
“Traverse it carefully and you can meet some really cool people,” Reinhold said about another site that she frequents, Deviantart.
This message can be applied to all mediums of online meet-ups. Caution plays an important role, but the internet is abundant with positive opportunities.
Regardless of the possible risks involved, 57% of United States teenagers have met new friends over the Internet, according to a national survey of teens ages 13-17 by the Pew Research Center in Washington DC.
“Considering how fast technology is advancing, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone had some online friends within the next twenty years,” said Shersnow.