In the current digital age, there are an increasing number of ways to connect with people from all around the world, making it easier than ever to share ideas and express oneself. Such a wide variety of entertainment means that whatever you’re into, there’s something out there for you. And, thanks to the constantly developing and changing culture of social media, there’s always someone who shares your passion. This is fandom culture.
“It’s a very widespread platform of ideas,” senior Ellie Kripal said. She has long been a part of online fandoms centered around Marvel, BTS, and more, even formerly running a BTS “stan” account of over 40,000 followers. However, she emphasized that the online culture can be a little intense for some people. “People can be overly enthusiastic about the shows they watch or books they read, and I do not vibe with that at all.”
She’s taken a step away from fandom life since the pandemic hit. “For a lot of shows and movies I watch, the fandoms have become too much to handle, so I have just focused on enjoying the media itself,” Kripal said. “I will always be a part of, say, the BTS community, but a lot [the fandoms] of TV shows and movies I watch, I stay away from.”
These same conversations over books or TV shows can lead to forming deeper connections. Senior Alana Kerr grew up in a very small town called Marianna, Florida, which has a population of less than 7,000. Being online allowed her to find people with similar interests that she wouldn’t have met otherwise. “For example,” Kerr said, “I met someone who lived in Rome, and she taught me about the culture and sent me pictures of some of the ancient buildings and ruins near her.”
She even met her current significant other through a mutual friend and got to know him through the magic of various internet platforms. “[A friend] told me that she met a guy online, and I had a lot in common with him. She gave me his phone number, and I didn’t really have an intention of reaching out to him, but he texted me that night, and we FaceTimed a few days later.”
While Internet relationships can be a great opportunity to meet new, like-minded people, there is a huge stigma attached to them. Some people think that having friends online means that you have no friends in real life. “This is absolutely not true!” Kerr said. “I was a super social person with super close friends in real life. Sometimes, I just wanted to have a conversation with someone reading the same book series as me that none of my friends in real life had read.”
What’s more pressing, however, is the concern for Internet safety. Computer science and cyber security teacher Dr. Sharon Genoways shares these worries. “I guess I am inherently distrustful of most things online. While I have a close friend who met her husband online, I just don’t think it is the appropriate venue to disclose personal information.” The increasing capabilities of various social media platforms mean that situations can quickly become unsafe if users are not careful.
“Predators are skilled at getting personally identifiable information (PII) from users,” Dr. Genoways said. To stay safe when using social media or communicating online, she advises that you “keep your PII private. This includes full name, address, age, school, etc. Our data is worth big bucks, and we need to hold onto it.”
Kerr makes sure to keep this at the forefront of her mind when online. “I created a separate social media account and didn’t show my actual face until I was sure they were real. I even had a separate name that I went by. All of those are pretty general practices, and real people don’t push you to tell them personal information at all.”