social media

What your parents told you not to do: talking to strangers online

When I was younger and about to journey into the strange new world of dial-up connections and “get off of the computer, mum needs to use the phone!” I was given the usual lecture of wha

When I was younger and about to journey into the strange new world of dial-up connections and “get off of the computer, mum needs to use the phone!” I was given the usual lecture of what not to do on the internet.

Number one on the long list, of course, was: “Don’t talk to strangers online!” and I became terrified of accidentally accepting someone on Bebo who I didn’t really know. Around eight years later, here’s the truth, Mum: I now talk to people I’ve never met on the internet. All the time.

Use your instincts

Honestly, it isn’t hard to determine who’s trouble and who’s not. If you’re on Omegle and someone messages you “asl” (age, sex, location, for those of you who are less technologically-savvy) it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to message them your actual address.

Equally, if someone is pretty public on Twitter and displays their university, blog and Instagram, chances are they’re not going to be too creepy, as they wouldn’t splash their reputation all over the place for you to ruin when you grass them up.

But basically, have your wits about you. Don’t post your phone number all over the internet, and as a rule, trust your gut instincts. If you feel someone is being inappropriate, don’t be scared to use the block and report buttons – it’s what they’re there for.


“But why,” I hear you cry, “Why would you want to talk to people you don’t know anyway?”

Well, dear reader, talking to strangers online is exactly how I am writing this for you today. Social media and the internet opens up a whole new wealth of opportunities, and regardless of whatever career you want to go into, if you set yourself up a Twitter and a LinkedIn account and start writing on things you’re passionate about, you’ll soon begin connecting with people who have the same interests.

When I started promoting my blog on Twitter, journalists and aspiring journalists started following me, and that’s how I got involved with Kettle, as well as other student magazines. Prior to university I had little experience and no contacts in journalism, and now I have a packed portfolio and tonnes of connections in the field.

And I certainly couldn’t have done that without the internet, and the power of Twitter in particular.

Great minds think alike

And naturally, along with finding people who share your interests professionally, you can find those who are like-minded on a personal level. There are a few people I have trusted enough to let down the barriers for and accept on Facebook (the closest you’ll ever get to the ‘real’ world online) and my gosh, I’m glad I have.

According to Google, the definition of ‘stranger’ is: “A person with whom one is not familiar” or “a person who does not know, or who is not known in, a particular place or community.”

These people are no longer ‘strangers’ then – but my friends. I have become familiar with them, told them things about my life and they have been welcomed into my community, and I into theirs. If I ever get the chance to meet them in ‘real’ life, I will grasp that opportunity.

A changing world

The truth is, the world is changing. It has often been said that the text message is the love letter of our generation and with most of my friends scattered across the country (or even the world!), I use Facebook and messaging to maintain my relationships. And I know that pretty much everyone else my age does too.

I’m not saying that I prefer this to real-life communication; anyone who has met me can vouch that I talk for England. But our lives are not like those of our parents and grandparents: everyone we know is no longer on our doorstep.

So, Mum and Dad – I’ve broken all the rules and spoken to strangers online, and I’m not sorry. My social life (and career) is far better as a result of it.

As long as you’re careful, don’t be scared to embrace a whole new world. You have no idea who you’ll meet or what opportunities you’ll get from it.

What do you think about talking to strangers online? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo: Magdalena Roeseler / Flickr