How do I make internet friends? I have no idea how to initiate conversations online—when I try, they go nowhere. I also grew up believing that if you give out your real name on Neopets or whatnot you will definitely get murdered, and it’s all new and mysterious to me. —Anonymous

The fact that you played Neopets lets me know that you WILL make awesome, totally non-creepy internet friends, because you clearly have excellent taste. But it’s true: Making internet friends is hard! At least you’ve got the times on your side—way back in the day, it was even harder. Before the twitstagrams and facespaces of our time, girls would mostly join message boards and chatrooms anonymously, not just to explore their interests and identities, but to meet people, too. This was risky because, oftentimes, they were left crossing their fingers that the person with whom they shared a deep passion about, say, Bette Midler was actually a peer and not a 60-year-old man.

Your hesitation to give out your information is very smart. The internet, sadly, isn’t entirely a utopia of girls sharing laughs, advice, and nail-art tutorials (but we’re working on that). It’s smart to initially avoid giving out personal information about yourself—like your last name, address, or phone number—until you’re absolutely confident that whomever you’re communicating with is who they say they are. Thankfully, it’s getting a lot easier to tell when you’re being catfished. Be wary of anyone you can only find in one outlet—like, say you meet someone on Twitter, but they don’t have any other web presence, like a blog, an Instagram, or a Facebook account, that confirms their identity. That’s sketchy! If your new internet friend seems to have a consistent presence and at least a few different pictures of themselves posted, they are probably not tricking you—but still, exercise caution until you’re sure. If you’ve met a friend online that you’re not able to meet up with IRL, but you want to send each other packages in the mail or talk on the phone, confirm the same stuff before you give out your address or phone number—and, if you can, ensure that they’re a real person by video-chatting with them.

All of this rigamarole is worth it! Without internet friends, my life would be so boring! I’d probably be wearing a beige suit, eating a bowl of plain oatmeal, and reading a book on the history of accounting. Instead, I met one of my best friends, Hazel, online when we were 14. We’re both 20 now, and our friendship is stronger than ever! I found her when I used to read message boards on Teen Vogue’s website where girls posted links to their blogs, or blogs that they admired. That’s how I discovered Tavi’s blog; from there, I stumbled onto Hazel’s. We would occasionally comment on one another’s posts, and eventually we started following one another on Twitter. That’s how Hazel and I realized we lived pretty close to each other, and that we happened to be both be taking summer classes at a nearby art college. It took time to get to know each other—our internet friendship developed slowly over a year or so. Then we met IRL in a safe space with other people present and have kept on hanging out ever since.

Nowadays, I honestly forget that Hazel was once strictly an “internet friend,” because we’ve been IRL besties for so long! In my experience, meeting online friends in real life is great, because you get to avoid a lot of the boring, small-talk-based aspects of meeting new friends—they’re already familiar with your background and your sense of humor, so you get to just dive right into having fun. Of course, internet chemistry doesn’t always translate in real life, but often enough, it really does! I’ve instantly jumped into the arms of some internet friends at first sight.

It can be hard to figure out where to start on this wondrous journey, but that’s only because you have so many options. Follow people with taste or opinions that you admire on Tumblr and/or Twitter. Feel free to share knowledge or compliments, but if someone is unresponsive, don’t pester them. Like making friends in real life, making online friends can be unpredictable, so don’t burden yourself with the idea that you must make friends every time you log on. Like making friends IRL, it can’t be forced, and unlike Neopets, your goal of friendship will not die if momentarily neglected. Good luck! —Gabby ♦

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