Social media and online communication are essential elements of the current generation. However, meeting an online acquaintance in-person still has potential risks.
Steve Hansen, assistant chief of the WSU Police Department, said students should remember a few tips to ensure safety.
“Meet in a public place,” Hansen said. “You really never know who you meet online. If you cannot do that, set something up with a friend. Tell them this is who I am meeting, this is their contact information and this is where I am going.”
Meeting people on a social media site, such as Facebook or the recently launched At the Pool site, is no different than meeting people in any other online capacity, he said. Students need to take precautions because neither party really knows who will show up.
“If you're going to do it, you should let someone know, that you trust, and have them come with you at least just for the initial meeting,” Katie Nickell, a senior nursing student, said. “Be really wary of giving out your real information, because so much of your identity can be stolen with the click of a button. It's really hard to know who you can and can't trust in real life, let alone online."
One of the disadvantages of online communication is a person can be completely anonymous, Hansen said.
“You can put forth a persona completely erroneous of who you are,” he said. “You can never guarantee what people tell you is 100 percent accurate."
In today’s society, online communication is becoming a cultural standard for new and old friends, Nickell said.
"We have Facebook groups for classes, we catch up with old friends online, shop online, you can even order food,” she said."People can basically survive without ever leaving their house and still have conversations with people.”
Leah Pingel, a sophomore music education major, said she suspects a little less than half of today's culture bases interactions around online contact, but possibly more with sites such as 9gag, Reddit and Tumblr.
“In the way of safety precautions, there's not much you can do if you meet someone truly deviant,” Pingel said. “They most likely are able to track IP addresses and find where you live. Don't give out any passwords or other personal information. Be cautious and wary that not everyone is kind-hearted.”