“The internet is a waste of time!”
“The people on the other side could be pedophiles or rapists!”
“You can’t trust those people.”
Many of us have heard this often. We’ve heard that the Internet is not a place you can build trusting relationships with other people; it is not a space where you can be open and honest and where you can find help. I’m not going to totally dismiss those claims; it is true there are places and sites where you can’t trust the people there. However, the Internet also can be a place where you find friends and connect with them just like you would in person.
I’ve seen both sides of the coin, I’ve seen the most disgusting toxicity online, while some of my best friends communicate with me exclusively through this medium.
People I met on the Internet helped me with my depression. They were there for me through the absolute worst I’ve been through, and they listened to me when no one else would.
Nearly a year ago, I was kicked out of a roleplaying community on the social media website Reddit. This community of like-minded people that I had helped build grew from 30 members to about 100 people who felt the same passions I did. I loved my time there.
But, after a particularly heated incident when I vented my frustrations about a fellow member who had become toxic and manipulative, those in power took offense and turned me into a social pariah. I wasn't welcome in that community anymore. I was forced to leave the place. I felt devastated to the point that I didn’t want to get out of bed.
However, to my astonishment, a number of members supported me, and even left the old community of their own volition because they wanted to be there for me. With their help, I formed a new community, that still stands to this day.
I’m still incredibly close to those individuals, I see them as family and go to them to talk when I feel lonely or down for any reason. And I met them on the internet!
I asked a few of those individuals I met on the Internet, questions regarding loneliness and depression. Their experiences somewhat match mine.
When asked whether or not online friends were closer than those made in real life, Brandon Brewer, a friend out of Louisiana, responded: “Yes and no. Closer than most of my friends back in high school, and even a decent amount more than a lot of the ones from college? Yup. More than my closest friends that I've had for about 10+ years? Not so much. As far as why? Because with few exceptions, the friends I've made in real life were a result of being stuck around them for extended periods of time day after day (i.e. school). The ones I've made online were a result of us sharing a common interest, and meeting while pursuing those interests. I think it provides a more solid foundation for a lasting friendship.”
When individuals come together based on a common interest rather than proximity, it makes the connections stronger and grow more quickly. You become closer as friends because that common interest drives you closer, keeping you together.
Dylan Sanders, a college student at Hofstra University in New York, told me how his online experiences helped him open up more in real life and become a little more extroverted. “Of course, I’m still mostly an introvert but back before I started making friends online, I hardly ever talked or joked around with people I didn’t already know; and while it’s still not common for me, I feel that learning about different people and seeing how many others genuinely care about me, without ever even seeing me in person, has helped me break out of my shell over time and gain a bit more confidence in myself.”
I can stand with Dylan here, I’ve gained tremendous confidence and have seen myself grow emotionally because of these online friendships.
An online friend from Michigan, Mick P. Hausen, says that he does turn to online friends when he’s depressed and down. “They may not be able to physically help but having someone to listen to my problems or even just a place to escape for a little bit has helped my depression. Having people with shared interests to speak to has been great for me.”
Contrary to those who may deride the Internet, it can be a place to find someone to help you up. I know that without it, I wouldn’t have met many of my finest friends.