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The International Writers Magazine: Web Savvy?

Are Your Websafe?
Holly Christodoulou

Start with an e-mail account. Just a basic account in which your real name and address are withheld, in their place a whole new identity is created. Instead of John Smith, a forty year old account you can become Tom. Tom is not forty; in fact he is ten years old, a skinny boy from the other end of the country. Tom likes to play football and the furthest his maths goes is at key stage 2.
Tom does not have a lot of friends, in fact hardly any, so he decides to open up an e-mail account so he can use Facebook and meet some new people. He meets a boy of the same age named Felix. Felix gets bullied at school; the other children make fun of him because his family do not have a lot of money. Tom understands, he is there for Felix and in return he has gained Felix’s trust. Tom grooms Felix, makes him feel as though no one can ever truly understand him the way that Tom does.

After a few months of continuous talking the pair decide to meet. It is here that the true façade is revealed, the Tom semblance is no longer in existence, in his place stands John Smith once again. Any normal child would raise the alarm once they have discovered the truth but not Felix. The problem is that Felix is vulnerable and has been easily manipulated by John Smith, he does not care about age and all the stories he has heard on the news. John is his friend, why would he hurt him?

This is the problem though; these twisted people prey on the most naïve and innocent children, the children that do not have many friends, the ones that just want a little bit of company in their lives. However it is not the paedophiles that are the biggest threat, it is the internet. It is so easy to be someone different nowadays and the internet allows people to do this.

To test this theory out I opened myself a new account on MySpace under a new e-mail address and instead of being 5 foot 4 brunette Holly from Buckinghamshire I transformed myself into Emily from Manchester. I am a 6 foot model who is currently doing an advertising campaign for a big brand company. I am single and looking for that special someone and my profile picture is copied straight from Google Images. I searched for people that live in "my" area and chose to add twenty people, a mixed gender group all varying from ages sixteen to twenty five. For the first few days I did not hear anything back and honestly I did not expect to but all of a sudden I had fourteen out of my twenty people. I told them all about my modelling career, the exotic places I had been to, how much money I was earning et cetera et cetera. My friends were there for me when I was feeling down and happy when I had a good day. They told me how beautiful I was, how they could not believe I was single. I almost felt sorry for them. That is until I wondered if any of them were doing the same as I was. In a country where we are being oppressed all the time, whether it be by the stresses of our careers or the sheer workload received at school and university is it any wonder that teenagers have the highest suicide rate? And for that matter, is a harmless bit of escapism really such a problem, providing of course that we are not hurting others?

As someone who has received a lot of therapy I would say that it is as we are only hurting ourselves. No matter how depressed we feel creating a whole new and better persona, especially a virtual one is not the answer. We will never be that person, never look like them or have their life. We will never be as good as they are because no one in real life is perfect. I for one know that I will never be a six-foot model with a Northern accent and beautiful blonde hair.
In this respect the internet is truly a virtual world, it gives people a second chance, a whole new life. As a child we are warned not to talk to strangers in the street, to ignore the weird man that skulks on the corner next to the school. We must never accept sweets from strangers or get in cars with people we do not know. As a father to two daughters my dad drilled this into my head and I still have not forgotten it over a decade later. Fast forward a few years though to the age of technology we are now living in. The internet did not even exist when I was a child and looking back now it was very rare to hear of a child kidnapping case, the world was just a much safer place. Now however all one has to do is switch on the television or open up a newspaper and yet another case of paedophilia has come to light. It is the parents of today that I feel sorry for as not only do they have to warn their children of the dangers of the street in the real world but what about this fake reality on the internet? Do most parents even think that their child’s new friend on Facebook is in fact an incredibly twisted person with one thing in mind?

On Second Life, the internet based virtual world, allegedly there were disturbingly several cases where the users were found to have been creating or exchanging child pornography. The users were actually creating sexual activity involving the child avatars for others to watch. This is pedophilia gone one step too far. To create a fake account on Facebook or MySpace, taking on the guise of a child is a disgusting and ominous thing to do. However, physically making a child on Second Life and getting it to perform sex acts is just perplexing. It is impossible to understand how these sick individuals are getting away with this.

It is strange to think that the Internet has been in homes since the early 1990’s as it is such a commonplace thing now. The worrying reality is that in ten years the internet has grown and expanded into something that cannot be controlled in any way shape or form. The main question now is what advances in the internet will the next decade bring and how can we stop them?
© Holly Christodoulou November 20th 2007

Holly is studying creative writing at the University of Portsmouth
Holly Christodoulou

My humble county full of rolling countryside hills, huge mansions, acres of farmland and some of the best schools in the country

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