We took a break from reporting on the “Apply to 100 jobs challenge” to bring you some brand new content today. But “100 jobs” will return next Friday with part 3.
While we are slowly moving back into offline public spaces, many are still more comfortable interacting with people, especially large groups of people, online. Coupled with the increased stress of finding work, managing finances, and continuing to grapple with the pandemic, this may make joining an online support or special interest group seem like a good idea. And it certainly can be. Signing into groups via Zoom, or participating through text on Facebook can help us cope with issues in our lives, connect with others who share our interests, and learn more about an issue or interest. But like any online environment, there are safe and unsafe online groups. Here are just a few warning signs that an online group might not be safe, or at the very least a waste of time.
Logging in makes you feel like you walked in on somebody.
Relationships can form online, and there is nothing wrong with finding people who feel comfortable in the group. But if you log in and it seems as though a tight, exclusive group has formed, the online space may have been taken over by an online clique. If you’ve joined just to get to interact with more people, hanging out around an online clique may still be a good idea for you. But if you’ve joined to learn about a topic or receive support, these people may not be willing to provide it, despite what the page or group title might suggest.
Everything is completely off-topic.
The rules for staying on-topic depend on the group. Some are kept strictly to the topic the group was formed to address. If it’s a support group for adult adopted children, every post and comment must relate directly to life as an adult whose parents adopted them. If it’s a chat room for people who love Game of Thrones, chatter about anything but Game of Thrones is strictly forbidden. Other groups are a bit more lax. They may allow general conversation, as long as all group or room attendees are members of the intended community. But even in the least moderated groups, there is typically at least a rule that comments and chatter must revert to the stated topic when someone new comes in, or when somebody needs to talk about the main topic. Logging into a group and finding no on-topic communication does not mean anything dangerous is going on, but it may be a sign that the group has fallen apart.
Moderators seem more concerned about the image of the online space than about the people in it.
Scammers, trolls and other online undesirables are going to make their way into any online space. The important thing is how they are dealt with. Moderators should take any and all reports of scamming, trolling, and online harassment seriously, and take steps to remove and block the problematic account at once. If it turns out to be a misunderstanding or deliberately false accusation, the person can create a new account.
Moderators of dangerous pages and groups are more concerned with the image of the online environment. They respond to reports of scammers, trolls, or harassers by bullying or demeaming the person who does the reporting instead of the problem account. Their only concern seems to be that the room or group not look bad. Any group that responds to a complaint in this manner should be left behind immediately.
Group owners make demands on your time.
One of the best things about online groups and chatrooms is the flexibility. You can log in when you can, log off when you need to, and devote as much thought and energy to the group as you can or want to give them. Beware of any support or interest group or website that demands people spend all or most of their time connected to the group. Unless somebody is paying you to be logged into their website, unless you have a salaried or hourly job working for this website with an agreement to work set hours, they cannot require you to log in or to remain logged in.
There are a lot of goods and services for sale.
Joining a group and finding a focus on selling doesn’t necessarily mean the group is dangerous, or even an unhealthy place to be. But it is a warning sign that the group or site is not truly there to provide support or information, but to sell someone’s services or goods. One or two items or services sprinkled among related posts is not a big deal, but if most of the posts seem to be selling something, the group or page is a sales area, not an interest or support group.
Something just strikes you as “off” or dangerous about the group or website, or someone who spends time there.
People typically ignore their internal warning bells for one of two reasons. They may fear they’re misjudging the situation, and walking away from something wonderful. Or perhaps they are worried about coming across as rude, or hurting someone else’s feelings.
Neither of these are legitimate reasons to continue interacting with anyone who makes you seriously uncomfortable online. If you are truly destined to meet the person who will log into the chatroom, join the facebook group, or jump into the comments on the YouTube video ten minutes after you leave, you will meet up with that person another way. Hurting others’ feelings can be avoided by simply ceasing to interact with the online group. There is no need to announce your departure or tell everyone what an awful webpage or group they have. Just leave the group and don’t return.
Online groups can be great ways to connect with others, find support for serious issues, or learn about new things. But just like any other large, public space, everybody you encounter there is not going to be a safe person to know.
Please add byline: by Jess Szabo', Arts Writer and provide a link back to www.artistcafeutica.com if adding this article to your artist, second career, side gig, or personal website.