Monday, June 12, 2000

Week of 06/12/2000

The Hysteria of Cybercrime
- by David Matthews 2

"Since the social victim has been oppressed by society, he comes to feel that his individual life will be improved more by changes in society than by his own initiative. Without realizing it, he makes society rather than himself the agent of change. The power he finds in his victimization may lead him to collective action against society, but it also encourages passivity within the sphere of his personal life." - Shelby Steele

Uh, excuse me, but do you know where your kids are?

Oh, they’re safe at home, you say? Doing what?

Surfing the Internet? Uh-oh.. not good!

Oh, didn’t you hear? All of those nasty news reports out there about pedophiles and serial killers and people who want to do who knows what to your precious little tykes!

The latest "alert" comes from USA Today and a government-sponsored study, which said that 20% of kids received "advances" by strangers for cybersex. Twenty percent! One in five kids! Oh the horrors!

Oh, but wait a minute… according to that same study, three-fourths of the kids who supposedly were propositioned brushed them off. So that makes it actually five kids in a hundred that considered the "advances" to be a problem.

Then again, you aren’t supposed to be thinking through that sort of stuff, are you?

Well, if that doesn’t scare your wits, how about the "SLAVEMASTER"?

That’s right, a lot of talk about this very disturbing case. Apparently this guy in Kansas is accused of meeting women online under the alias "slavemaster" and convincing them to meet with him in person for some sadomasochistic sex. Police now believe that five of those women were killed and placed in barrels that were stored at various places on the guy’s property.

Ugh! Creepy! But then again, no more creepy than a Ted Bundy or a John Wayne Gasey. Certainly in the same ballpark as Marquis de Sade, except with a Midwestern American home and a different means of getting women.

Oh, but wait a minute.. unless you’re looking for pain in all the wrong places, I guess you’re not really in any kind of danger, are you?

That’s right my friends, once again, we are playing the favorite game of the media, and especially of government: "Hysteria Mania!" The game where the media tells you of some kind of public threat, the public is supposed to be terrified, thus allowing the "benevolent" members of government to come rushing to the rescue with more laws and more regulations.

This game is nothing new, of course. Hysteria concerning the Internet has been going on ever since a certain magazine publication collaborated with a group of bible-thumping moralists and wrinkled old geriatrics in Congress to get people to believe that the Internet was filled with rapists and pedophiles.

The government’s remedy at the time was a complete ban on everything they deemed to be "indecent" - although the term itself was never legally defined. The ploy backfired, though, when more credible members of the online community fought back and challenged the government and the members of the media to prove their claims.

However, while one ploy failed, the hysteria on so-called "cybercrimes" continue. Identity theft, online stalking, credit card fraud, obtaining personal information, virus attacks, and online scams have all been used by members of the media to go beyond merely informing the online populace, but to also make people fearful, and thus demand that government "save" them.

Now let’s get brutally honest here. I am not making light of the serious and legitimate problems of the online community. There are some very sick and perverted people out there in the online world; men and women who prey on the generosity and naivete of a group of people who lack the online version of "street smarts", and I have no respect or support for those people.

However, there are ways to combat these serious problems that do not involve turning cyberspace into a heavily regulated police state, which is what the moralists and members of Congress have wanted to do for so very long.

Part of the reason why cyberspace criminals are able to thrive is not because the Internet is relatively open and anonymous. Quite the contrary. Even the most skilled hacker leaves a trail that can be traced back to the source given enough time and resources.

Rather, they thrive because their victims make themselves an easy mark.

Parents who know very little about the computer trust software to protect their children. They blindly trust that online filtering programs will work so good that they don’t have to do their jobs as parents. They foolishly believe that online chat rooms are filled with kids who are who they claim to be. They naively believe that they can have their personal information, and the personal information of their children, out there for anyone to see.

They almost deserve to have the words "SUCKER" tattooed to their foreheads.

However, it’s not entirely their fault. In their quest to appeal to every demographic, online software makers designed their programs to be so simplistic that even the most technologically clueless can be inept online in just minutes.

Are there solutions? You bet there are, but they are not going to come from the government, or from some kind of software program. Rather, many of our solutions have to start and end with us, the individual end-user.

First, we need to develop the online version of "street smarts." That means not being so careless about what kind of personal information you share with others. Not everyone needs to know your home address or your phone number, or how old you are for that matter. And we need to be skeptical of the people who do ask for that information. Why do they need it? What do they plan on doing with that information if you give it to them?

Also, once again, parents cannot simply fob off their responsibilities to the computer. Having a so-called "smart" system does not replace the role of the parents to making sure their kids are surfing the Internet wisely. Just as parents must scrutinize who their kids come in contact with in the real world, they must do the same online.

And finally, before we start looking at new laws to address the legitimate problems in cyberspace, we must first ask ourselves if there are already laws on the books. Politicians LOVE to write new laws, but they have a piss-poor record of seeing to it that those laws get enforced. Having one law, or even fifty laws, is meaningless unless those in government are willing to enforce them.

Maybe massive hysteria is the stock in trade for the modern media, but that does not mean we must fall into their trap. There are some serious concerns with the online world, but they really do need to be put into their proper perspective before they can be resolved.

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