Thursday, December 18, 2014

Internet Paranoia

Because my generation is the first to grow up with the Internet, I'm never sure how much of the change I see is due to my age and how much is simply evolution of the online world. When I was nine, I played around on websites like Club Penguin, Millsberry, and Webkinz. No one on the Internet knew me as Erica. I was Linda, Cittly, Blanca, and a whole host of other names I don't remember. Using my real name would be like walking home alone from a friend's house after 8:30. That was practically begging to get kidnapped.
At fourteen, I started this lovely blog. As discussed in previous posts, I used my middle name partly to hide it from my mom (that didn't last long) and partly because I liked the thrill of the alias. For the next three years I sat through conversations like this.
"My sons all play sports, and Erica, my oldest, she's a blogger. She has this blog about teenagers who make a difference-"
"Actually, it's about ageism."
"Yeah, she gets opinionated sometimes. It's called ourvoiceteen-dot-BlogSpot-dot-com. Her name's Eliza on it. It's her middle name, I make her use it for safety."
Yeah, she developed this memory somewhere along the line. I corrected her every time she said it and she eventually stopped. But the words stay rooted in my mind.
I don't have a YouTube account, but my Google Plus profile lets me leave comments and make playlists and whatnot. My mom freaked out when she discovered this. "Your username is your real first and last name? Someone could find you!" Yeah, my last name's Smith. Good luck, kidnappers.
Most cases of rape, kidnapping, etc. occur with a victim who already knows their abuser. There are practical reasons for this. Why would a future kidnapper form an online relationship with a child who lives two thousand miles away instead of the kid down the road?
I've never heard adults cautioned to lie about their identities online. They use the Internet to work, shop, and date. Kids just want to play games. Really, pedophiles make up a small sliver of the population. A predator is more likely to prowl around an adult dating site than a kiddie chat lounge.
That's not the only problem. After a year of being Eliza, I sent a classmate a friend request on Goodreads. She responded with a "Sorry, who are you?" Five seconds later I changed my name. I sent her a request from Erica, she responded, and we all lived happily ever after. Fake names are fine for gamers and other communities where anonymity is the norm. But if you want your real and virtual lives to cross over, it just gets in the way.
My youngest brother's email account belongs to "Sam", his middle name. My other brother, Brandon Thomas, sent emails through some guy named Joey Claxon for a while. I made my account in seventh grade. My address is my initials, a common noun, and a number. On Monday, I went into the bank to set up a checking account. The banker laughed at me. "You can always tell how old a client is by their email address. At least it's not bad as some I've heard. I had a girl in here who called herself dancingfairy13."
I still have some accounts floating around with the name Eliza attached to them. Now that I've got a debit card, I have to change them all. No cashier will let a customer carrying Erica's card use Eliza's member discount. Some of them don't even have the right last name. Sure, my card says Erica Elizabeth, so I can probably talk my way out if it comes to that. But that's a headache I don't want to deal with. Does anybody?
It's one thing to call yourself dancingfairy13 on a gaming site, or some other community where anonymity is the norm. But there's no reason to do this with an email address. If you aren't cursed with a common name, just throw the real thing in there. It's easier for people to remember anyway.
I liked being Eliza for the last few years. I still sign things that way. But if I were to do it all again, I'd start blogging under my real name. Fake names might make you parents feel secure, but they do nothing to protect you from actual dangers and they'll come back to bite you later in life.

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