When I was eight years old and the internet was a brand new glorious thing, my friends and I would go into chat rooms and pretend we were seventeen-year-old high school students. It was like a make believe game of house but in an electronic setting where we could make up new, believable identities for ourselves. However, for all we knew, the "eighteen year old high school senior boy" that we were talking to on the other end was an eighty-two year old woman or a forty-five year old man. The fact that on the internet we can be anyone we want without others being openly judgmental is part of the beauty of the internet, yet at the same time part of its horror. Tim Menees illustrates this point in a political cartoon dated January 15, 2002. Menees depicts a young girl on one end of the chat room saying, "Im 22, and like clothes, photography, honesty, great cinema" and an older man on the other end responding with, "Hey, me too ;-).".
Internet chat has become a very prominent source of communication between both strangers, as in Menees' cartoon, and friends. Many college students use AOL instant messenger, the largest internet chat source, in place of telephones.People are introduced when they meet in chat rooms of common interests, and friendships are forged. The problems occur when internet relationships go past innocent friendships. The media has presented many stories about how a child was kidnapped or sexually assaulted after meeting their attacker on the internet. Some parents have responded by banning their children from internet access because of fears of abduction and exposure to inappropriate things. Bonnie Fell, the mother of three boys, for example, will not get internet access in her home because she is afraid that her sons will fall victims of internet stalking (Elmer-Dewitt). In reality, the fears expressed by the media and by Bonnie Fell are potential dangers; however, careful research on and analysis of the internet suggests that internet stalking is much less of a danger than the media makes it out to be.