Students share their experiences meeting friends on the internet

Kara Torgler , photographer

Amidst the hustle and bustle of school junior Brennah Welch glances at her cell phone screen. Her best friend’s name, Katie, flashes across the screen. Welch and Katie Ziter don’t have an average friendship, though. They originally contacted each other through Instagram and have never met in person.

For many students, digital friendships are becoming more common. In a survey by Pew Research Center, it was found that 57 percent of teens have met a new friend through social media or online gaming. The technological world continues to be a dominant way of contact and that results in many long distant friendships.

In 2012, Welch contacted Ziter due to a mutual following of an Instagram account. It wasn’t until the summer before Welch’s sophomore year that the two officially became friends. Welch and Ziter talk constantly, and have found many ways to connect with each other despite never actually meeting.

“I don’t talk about her a lot but when I do, my other friends get really confused,” Welch said. “At first they ask ‘who is that?’ or ‘how do you know her again?’”

While Welch lives in Kansas, Ziter lives in Pennsylvania. With the help of technology, the hundreds of miles separating them does not put a damper on the relationship and connections the two share.

“I feel like I am a lot closer to her than I am with other people,” Welch said. “Katie and I are the same person, which a lot of times is a bad thing, but it’s pretty good for us because whenever something happens, she just knows and it doesn’t matter how far away we are.”

For Welch, meeting Ziter has positively impacted her life. Often the dangers of the internet are the only facts exposed when it comes to meeting people online. Forty one percent of teens said they have witnessed or been a part of a negative experience on social media according to Pew Research Center.

“People often think that the internet is bad and yes, there are weird people out there and some can end up using others or doing bad things,” Welch said. “But that doesn’t mean that everyone on the internet is out to get you. I think that as long as a friendship is real and true, then it’s good, then it shouldn’t matter where you meet them.”

Similarly, senior Brianna Bartalos met her current best friend through a social media outlet. During Bartalos’ sophomore year, she noticed a tweet from an upset Blue Valley student, Brycen Gunn. She decided to reach out to him and offer her condolences.

“I direct messaged him because I noticed he was upset about something going on over Twitter,” Bartalos said. “I wanted him to know that even though I didn’t know him, I was looking out for him and if he needed someone to talk to, I was there.”

This simple act of kindness from Bartalos launched the two’s friendship. As Bartalos and Gunn began texting, they realized that they would both be attending the same Relay for Life event which would allow them to finally meet.

“We hung out the entire night together and we’ve been best friends since,” Bartalos said. “It’s been one of the best friendships I have developed.”

After Relay for Life, Bartalos and Gunn continued to make connections over their similar interests and common hobbies. The common denominator between the two was their love for cheerleading. Both were able to become closer with each other despite the unique initial contact. Bartalos doesn’t think of her friendship with Gunn any differently than the relationship she has with her other friends.

“We had this weird click, and it’s nothing different than my other friendships,” Bartalos said. “I look at all my friendships differently depending on the individual. I have all these separate relationships, but then we’ll all come together and now we’re best friends.”

While Welch and Bartalos had valuable experiences on the internet, they both recognize the necessary precautions that should be taken to stay safe while meeting new people through social media and technology.

“Sometimes there are dangers that exist on social media but that’s true for anything,” Bartalos said. “I don’t think meeting people over the internet is a bad thing and I think a lot of people meet their best friend over the internet. We have the opportunity with social media and new technologies to meet new people with unique personalities and similar interests and I think we should take advantage of that.”