This weekend myself - and many of my friends in the Youtube community - have been shocked to discover that Mike Lombardo, a 23year old musician on youtube, was being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the exchanging of explicit images with underage fans.
Lombardo had worked closely with DFTBA Records and the nerdfighter community at large over the past few years, and many in the fandom looked up to and respected him and his musical talents.
I myself had the oppurtunity to interview Lombardo about a year ago for my university radio show, and held the utmost respect for him. All that respect has disappeared following these shocking revelations.
While it should be made clear that he has not yet been officially charged, there is a sworn affadavit from the FBI agent dealing with the case who has seen the photos in question (which were sent to 2 girls, one 15 and one 17), so it seems increasingly unlikely that this is all simply a misunderstanding.
Innocent until proven guilty certainly, but the facts as they stand simply don’t look good there’s no two ways about it.
I write today though not to demonise Mike, but to implore the rest of the world who will see this story and say “Oh well, it just proves what we’ve been saying about the dangers of the internet” to take a second glance.
I have been a part of this fandom for the best part of the last 10 years, and for a long period of that time I was a legal minor. I - and hundreds, even thousands like me - understood the inherent danger we placed ourselves in. We were conversing with people in some cases more than double our age, and in many cases (such as at conferences or even just as friends outside of it all) arranging to meet people we had only ever spoken to online.
Now clearly the case of Mike Lombardo shows that in some ways that innate trust was misguided, but it would still never stop me doing the same thing all over again were I back in that position once more.
While there are bad people in the world, and people who will try and take advantage (and the law is in place to ensure these horrible people are dealt with), 99.99999% of the people I have met online I would deem to be the closest friends I have. Through the Harry Potter fandom, and more recently the nerdfighter community on Youtube I have found a home and I have found a family who I truly know I can trust with my life.
So should we be more wary of the fact that predators are out there, even in places online that we assume to be inherently safe: yes. But that does not mean that there should equally be an inherent assumption that everyone we meet online is a sexual predator.
This is I admit a somewhat rambling blog post - far from my most eloquent at any rate - and for that I apologise, but I needed to get these opinions out. I need the world to know that at it’s heart there is still a goodness and a respect that comes with the sense of community that I have felt online, and that I will not let a minority abusing that change the way I feel about the internet and it’s power to bring us together.
For more on the story, I would suggest these posts, firstly by LeakyNews, and secondly by Lauren Fairweather, both of whom write far more eloquently than I have managed.