Before I began blogging, I wrote a Facebook note about my experiences with “stranger danger” – first as a child, then as a parent.
Yesterday, I met my local Patch editor for lunch and to catch up. We talked about lots of things, but among them were a bunch of ideas I had for future blog posts. (No, silly. After my friend, Mara’s aggravation with plagiarism, I’m not sharing the ideas here…)
Then this happened. The list of ideas went out the window. (Click on it to enlarge if your eyes are challenged, like mine are…)
Now, I consider myself a moderately cautious person. I figure if my kids think I’m overprotective, and my parents don’t think I’m careful enough, I’m probably striking a decent balance. I recognize the risk of putting my writing into a public forum, but I figure stalkers would have to work pretty hard to find me, since I am pretty small-time in the writing world.
Yes, I also realize this person may, indeed, simply be a harmless, lonely guy starving for human interaction. Maybe he really did see in my postings a charitable heart and approachable manner, and was reaching out for some kindness. Even if that is the case, though, I don’t really have time for charity friendships – especially ones that fall so far outside my natural orbit as this one does. Also, I’m not big on safety risks.
I heed the privacy warnings – reveal only where I have been, and not where I am going in terms of location. I never tweet or put on Facebook that we are on vacation or otherwise away from home. My posts are not available to the public, unless I make them so (which I do when I put a blog post up.) I don’t do “check-ins” or “Foursquare”. I have advised my kids to never tweet or put on Facebook the fact that they may be babysitting or home alone and why. I have repeated that warning and checked their pages in the past to make sure they are obeying that rule, despite the guaranteed eye-rolls.
The above interaction took place with one of the EXTREMELY FEW Facebook friends I accepted without knowing the person. “Oh, that person’s friends with my friend, wants to be friends with me, what’s the harm?” I usually don’t do this. Seriously, maybe three times I’ve become friends with someone I don’t know. (In my defense, the person above has a name that in English, is usually a girl’s name.) If I’ve never met them in person, these Facebook friendship requests come from friends of friends I know, trust, and with whom I have an established relationship. I assume these friends of friends have been vetted in some way to ensure they are not creeps. Yet, even this weeding out process is unreliable. Anyone can stop paying attention for 5 seconds and allow the wrong person to fly in under the radar.
However – and this is a big, bold HOWEVER… I have accepted with relative complacency the fact that my kids have hundreds upon hundreds of facebook friends, many of whom they have never met in person. Friends of friends of friends who like their pictures or comments on their friends’ of friends’ pages, and thought, “Hey! This chick is funny!” or “Wow – that dude seems really nice!” and sent a friend request to my kids which I suspect my kids pretty much automatically accept without discrimination. I protested this weakly when they first joined Facebook, warning them against being FB friends with people they’ve never met. Scarily, like so many other things, it is extremely difficult to keep track of, let alone enforce. I’ve decided to (for the most part) trust their judgement. Consider, though, the number of friendships they’ve accepted in the same way I’ve accepted THREE? You do the math. Yikes.
I showed this interaction to my 13 YO, with no introductions or set-ups. Within a fraction of a second, his brows furrowed, and he said, “Wait, do you KNOW this guy?” I said, “No. But I accepted his friend request on Facebook anyway.” I didn’t have to tell him it was stalker-ish. He looked a little freaked. Thank God.
I did, however, tell him that I was lucky this person was exceptionally bad at trying to strike up a friendship – to elicit personal information – without red flags going up. That even if he had been good at it, better at English, and done a better job making me feel at ease with our mutual connection to this actual friend of mine, I think (and hope) I still would have verified with my friend what this guy’s story was. That that’s exactly what I SHOULD have done before I even accepted the friend request.
I sent this conversation to our mutual friend, and asked, “Do you know this guy?” She was shocked, and said, “No! Let’s BOTH block him! But this would make a GREAT blog post…” Done, and done. Now please excuse me while I take my children out of school, take their electronics away and lock them up until they’re 35 in their rooms. Which are located in a house on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.