In the late 90’s as the Internet became dominant, a Saturday Evening Post cartoon seemed to sum up the issue of Internet interactions. The cartoon showed a dog sitting at a computer talking to another nearby canine. The dog at the computer says, “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
There’s been some romantic activity over the past 10 or 15 years that has me concerned. No, I’m not some prudish school official who measures skirts at high schools, so relax. The activity that has me concerned is Internet or online dating.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, online dating is actually rather similar to online shopping, except instead of high-efficiency light bulbs or 5-w40 synthetic oil, you’ll be looking for a better half. The core of the experience involves creating your “online profile,” which is an honest, straightforward (ha!) description of yourself for others on the prowl to peruse. I know as someone who’s worked in journalism for over 20 years, asking somebody to honestly describe themselves, shortcomings, faults and all, is probably too much to expect.
Two weeks ago American media were reporting on the tragic story of 13 year old Nicole Lovell, who was murdered by an 18 year old man whom she met on the Internet. Lovell’s friends said she was apparently in an adult relationship with the man, and that other men were contacting the 13 year old girl as well. The girls’s father, David, was quoted as saying, “You could tell these older guys had fake profiles. Some of the things they said were way too grown up for the picture they had.”
Police in Edmonton this past week even had advice for people using free online classifieds site Kijiji, which is affiliated with eBay. Police were warning about phony ads and “bad guys” who were posting them. People were answering fake ads, going to meet people and then getting robbed or assaulted.
Referring to the Saturday Evening Post cartoon, no one knows who is at the other end of a computer connection. He may claim to be the most pious fellow in Wetaskiwin who happens to look like Tom Cruise too, or the lady you met may claim to be a millionaire who looks like Jennifer Aniston to boot. How do you know?
I’m not saying online dating is necessarily bad. Anyone who’s played the dating game knows how time-consuming and disappointing it can be in the real world. But here are some tips to keep you safe, especially for you parents out there whose kids may be frequenting dating websites.
First, don’t post any kind of actual contact information, not even an email. Create a new email address just for your dating adventures. If you post a photo (you don’t have to) don’t use one that could identify you. Many people even use a codename like “BillyBong” rather than their real names. Remember that anyone you meet could also track you down on social media like Facebook.
Secondly, when writing your own profile be honest. Most of us don’t like to ponder our failures or expound upon our shortcomings, but it’s a fact we all have them. If you’re dishonest and find someone you’re interested in, “coming clean” could have a disastrous (and karmic) result.
Thirdly, remember most people don’t look or sound perfect in real life. Whether that profile you’re interested in shows a guy who looks like Josh Brolin driving a Mercedes-Benz in Hawaii is real or not, that’s a red flag.
Fourth, protect yourself. Never go to meet someone you don’t know. There’s a word for someone like that. “Stranger.” Get to know people first; any decent man or woman will understand caution. Turn and run when you get any, and I mean any, requests for money. There are professional scammers who roam dating sites looking for lives to destroy.
Stu Salkeld is the new editor of the Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.