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by Rena Fulgencio, staff writer

“They don’t seem like rapist types,” a friend said, recapping a night out with new friends we had first met on the Internet. Her concern was well grounded. The news has been full, the past few years, of stories about negative experiences people have had with “friends” met on the Internet.
In 2006, Mathew Cargill, 29, posed as a 16-year-old boy to arrange a meeting with a 15-year-old girl through the popular networking Web site, MySpace. It was the third arrest of that sort in one month that year in Hawai‘i.

But not everyone on the Internet is a predator. In fact, you can meet decent people through these channels and real friendship can spark online just as it can from meeting someone in person.

Our date actually came about because, while celebrating a friend’s birthday at Dave & Busters, I saw someone I knew only from MySpace. I didn’t risk saying “hi,” for fear it might not be him, but the next day, I sent him a message and asked if he had been there that night. He replied with a yes and said that I should have introduced myself to him. After a few more messages, there was talk of meeting up in person over the weekend and him promising me that I’ll have a good time.

My friend and I met with him and his friends at a bar in Waikiki, and my MySpace friend not only made good on his promise, but now I also have several new friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime.

Web sites like MySpace allow us to interact with people we would probably never meet otherwise. Still, while we can now network with new people, we should also continue to take precautions and trust our instincts when arranging a face-to-face meeting.

“ Just gotta use your head, common sense,” said Detective Sterling Solusod, a 22-year veteran of the Honolulu Police Department. He mentions the state Web site that offers some Internet Safety Tips:

• Do not give personal information such as your address, telephone number, or the name and location of your school.
• Never send pictures of yourself or any other personal material to someone you meet online.
• When “chatting” in chat rooms, remember that not everyone is who they say they are.
• Always keep in mind that as you move through the Internet, you leave information about yourself. When users post to USENET.IRC chat rooms or listservers, they reveal their mailing addresses so others can contact them. Some Web sites also collect information called “cookies,” compiled lists of information that may include your name, address, telephone number, and possibly even your credit card number. Ask your Internet service provider how to turn off your “cookies.”
• Be sure the meeting is in a public place.

For more information visit: hawaii.gov/ag/hicac.


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