No matter the distance, online friends are just as real as in-person ones


Ella Ashby

Student messages a friend online.

Claire Reinthaler, Features Editor

Growing up, I was always told to be careful of who you talk to on the internet, because anyone could be out there to steal your identity, stalk you or worse. That concern is completely warranted, don’t get me wrong; the internet can be an insanely scary place, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. But it’s important to remember that while there is the occasional creep out there, most people using the internet and social media are not scary. The vast majority are everyday people like you and me who have no ulterior motives. There’s absolutely no reason that online friendships can’t be as valuable than the friends that you see in person every day.
The stigma around online friendships is an issue that’s especially close to my heart. I moved to Clemmons in the fall of my freshman year here at West. At the peak of COVID, when school was entirely over Zoom, I knew absolutely nobody and had no real way other than the internet to meet people. Now I’m a junior and one of my closest friends to this day is someone I met in a breakout room on Zoom freshman year. Yes, we see each other in person every day now, but if we had never talked online first, we would probably have never even become friends, and certainly would not be as close as we are today.
However, that’s not my only experience with online friendships. Last year, I started a fan account on Instagram for my favorite book series, where I posted edits and snippets of writing pieces I had written about those characters. While doing so, I met a fellow writer who also ran a fan account for the same book series that I ran my account for, only she lived in Australia. Over the course of the next six months, we began to talk more little by little and in late November of 2021, I proposed the idea of writing a new story together: based in the same world as the books we both loved, but with new characters that were of our own creation. While planning this new piece, the two of us began to talk more and more frequently until we were routinely texting back and forth every day. It was only once we completed this project that the two of us realized how much we genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. After texting for so long and talking on the phone every weekend, I genuinely felt like she knew me better than almost anyone else.
But that was so hard to explain to people, because once you’ve gone through the standard steps of ‘yes, I made sure she was a real person before I told her anything substantial about me’ and ‘yes, I know what she looks like and how old she is,’ it’s usually less impactful to people when I say she’s one of my best friends. It can be a really hard concept to understand if you haven’t experienced it yourself, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a real thing that can happen. Have an open mind, and try not to discredit a friendship that you have no right to make an assumption about.