Support Groups for those coping with a family estrangement. Part I
Support Groups: Part III: Creating your own online group.

Support Groups: Part II (Online Support Groups)

Some online discussion groups have been offered on sites set up by the authors of books on the subject. Some online groups are public and anyone can read and write on the site. Others require people to become members using an email address or user name and a password but letting almost anyone join. Occasionally such groups may block a person who violates the moderator's rules of conduct but it is easy for someone to make up another user name, get another email address, and join again.

Some people make up multiple identities to use in a group. Reasons for doing this can vary from someone wanting to have a ready made friend who will always be in agreement with them to someone trying to disguise their identity for reasons of their own. Reasons for using multiple identities could be positive or negative. There are estranged relatives who do stalk the people from whom they are estranged. Both stalkers and stalkees might create multiple identities. It's a strange strange world wide web we inhabit!

A couple of years ago a site was set up specifically for parents who were estranged by their children and that site is semi-private. They attempt to prevent adult children who had estranged their parents from joining. Discussion groups there are only for parents who are mourning the loss of their children. The group owner  doesn't want the group to be publicized. I am not the group owner and I do not belong to it. I had offered to publicize it when it was first set up and the owner told me that they did not want it publicized. I can understand why.

Some public discussions of family estrangements take place on sites that have as a main subject something that has nothing to do with relationship issues but which offer forums that provide an opportunity for registered members to start discussions on topics of their own choosing. These are generally public discussions and are open to anyone to read and write. However, participants usually can create their own user names and their email addresses are generally not shown with their posts.

Private online discussions can be set up in such a way, thanks to the many services offered online, that it is almost impossible for someone to find and read the postings, assuming that all of the members' computers are secure and not accessible to anyone else and that no spyware has been installed on their computer. In one situation that I know of, a woman's private email to a group moderator was read by her son who had estranged her and who had not lived with her for some time. He used spyware installed on her computer to monitor her online. Both her son and her ex-husband used spyware on her computer to do this at different times. She did not know whether her son had installed the spyware that he used to read her email. Someone had put something on her computer.

The son never did get into the discussion group as far as we know as the mother didn't receive postings as emails. He only saw the email. If she had set her group postings to be received as emails he would have been able to see all of the group's discussion, including the private posts of people he didn't know. If that had occurred and he had wanted to, he might have been able to contact others who were related to these group members and reveal their postings to them. That could be disastrous for those who had trusted that their postings would be private within the circle of that group. There is probably spyware that is more invasive than the spyware that he used and that would have given away her password and user ids that she used to log into the group. Then he would have had even more access to the group and could have posted under her user name if he had wanted to.

If there has been an opportunity for someone to put spyware on a group member's computer, then there is a risk, no matter how private the group, that their password and user name and membership in the group are known and that the specific person whom they most would not want to read their posts can see everything. If that occurred, then there is also the chance that the identities of other members of the group would be known to that person and there could be further consequences and compromises to the privacy of other members with unfortunate results. This is something to be aware of when joining or creating an online group. It may be rare that this happens but it is something to be aware of as a risk.

One daughter who had estranged her mother for ten years joined a password protected group on family estrangement when she had a conflict with her father and stepmother. Her mother had belonged to the group for a year and a half and had been invited to join the group by the owner when it was first formed. At the time that the daughter began posting on the group, the mother hadn't posted anything for six months. The daughter searched the group archives for her mother's posts and then became enraged. The daughter did not see her behavior as an invasion of her mother's privacy but only as an example of her mother's foolishness for posting in a group on the internet where her postings could be found by anyone. The mother was not able to establish any kind of productive dialogue with the daughter in the group and subsequently quit that group and created a private group which could be joined only through invitation.

The danger of a password protected group to which almost anyone can join is that it can become too large for anyone to know anything about the identities and backgrounds and agendas of the members. So if privacy is important, as it can be in many situations, then you must know the risks associated with joining a group with a large membership. Creating another email address and a user name that is not associated with you personally and not ever using real names or other identifying details in your posts are good strategies if you join a large discussion group. As well as being certain that no one has ever put spyware on your computer.

In the next post I will talk about the opportunities that exist to create your own private online discussion group.

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