Saturday, 4 June 2011
Yet more internet paranoia
Recent question on a writers' board about how much one should trust internet "friends". Someone was trying to make contact with a potential beta - a person who will swap manuscripts and give you feedback on your WIP - and had encountered some wariness when she raised the issue on a large public forum. Being a trusting soul she couldn't figure this out.
The internet is an odd thing. Considering how vast and multinational it is, it can feel, as you surf in the cosy safety of your room, strangely intimate. In a very short time you can reach a level of trust with complete strangers that would normally take years. I've seen people discuss the most personal and private issues on some boards, to the extent where I've wondered whether the poster is fully aware of just how much they are putting out there for all and sundry to see. Because it's easy to forget how exposed you are on a public forum. And what's worse is not every person you encounter is as honest and well meaning as they might seem.
Put it this way. Would you walk down the street of your local town or city and hand copies of your precious novel - the one you're slaved over for months or even years - to complete strangers? OK, maybe that's a bit extreme, but it's not so very different from what we do when we post our work online. It's not unheard of for short stories and poems to be lifted and sold to magazines abroad without the author's knowledge. Cyber stalking is not unknown either and anyone who gives away too much about their personal life leaves themselves vulnerable to being targeted.
I don't want to sound alarmist, but the fact is there are some weirdos and crooks stalking the internet and we do well to bear that in mind before opening our hearts. I speak as someone who until recently was as guilty of that wide eyed naivete as any school kid. Just remember, anyone can be anything they want behind the mask of a cheeky screen name and avatar. It pays to be cautious.