It’s A Dangerous World In Here

The internet ain’t no place for the innocent. It’s the wild west around these parts, with infrastructure still being built and social feedback loops yet to fully developed. There is little policing, few laws. At times, it can feel like an ominous town, with bad guys sizing you up from under their ten-gallon hat–just waiting for a moment of weakness.

Bad guys don’t have to be quick on the draw on the internet. They can be stupid, unemployed ner-do-wells with nothing better to do than sit around and hassle people. In fact, a big part of the discourse online is just that. People with too much time on their hands hassling people who actually work and produce something.

I have written before that the internet is a place to share information, not hide it, and I wanted to illustrate that with some examples:

First, the not-so-anonymous blogger. There are many bloggers out there who don a nom de plume to hide their identity. America has a very long history regarding pseudonyms. And many people use them online for professional reasons–they have a job or profession where it wouldn’t do to have their opinion known. But online anonymity is an illusion. A determined person or P.I. can find a persons true identity fairly easily.

Example 1: Congressional staffer boinking Congressmen and writing about it.
Example 2: Hacker terrorizing others. (He’s a professional, mind you, and STILL got caught.)
Example 3: All the anonymous asshats cyber stalking Governor Palin.

In all cases, the bloggers were smart. They knew the internet and they were exposed. Word to the wise. If you’re going to be anonymous, know that a controversial topic will likely uncover you.

Second, social media as a weapon. The above folks were using blogs rather destructively, but some anonymous bloggers are constructive and deserve anonymity. Still, it doesn’t take much to uncover someone. People can also use social media to destroy.

Danny Glover recounts how a not-so-sweet mommy blogger stomped her cyber feet:

Extortion has found its way into the blogosphere — and all for a pair of Crocs. A greedy “mommy blogger” at the recent BlogHer conference threatened to write something bad about the maker of Crocs if its representative didn’t find her a free pair of the comfy sandals.

No doubt about it, that’s low. As I see it, there would have been nothing wrong with said mommy blogger bemoaning her missed opportunity to get good swag at the conference. But threatening to go negative as a way to get a gift she clearly didn’t deserve is completely unethical.

The same is true for anyone who uses social media as a weapon. The blogosphere is an effective check against bad customer service, but customers who abuse it are as bad, or worse, than the companies who mistreat them.

It is as easy as a couple clicks to ruin a person’s reputation–or try to. While the vile creatures who spread false rumors and invective about Sarah Palin are now outed and exposed for frauds, Andrew Sullivan continues on his merry way after being as salacious and evil as his online equivalent Perez Hilton. Cruel language can be devastatingly effective as both of these rumor mongers have proven.

Finally, the internet world connects directly to the real world. It is the real world. The notion that there is a separation is an illusion. People assume that those online are somehow more trustworthy–or, that they’re so far away that even if they are kinda bad, they’re harmless. That is not true. Consider this:

U.K. insurance company, Legal & General, took a survey of 2,092 users of social networking Web sites. Almost four out of ten (38 percent) of those who use social media at places like Twitter or Facebook post their vacation plans. Potential burglars could find this information valuable in seeking targets of crime.

The report titled “The Digital Criminal,” said that criminals could obtain vital, personal information from online users of social media.

It is nigh to impossible to hide my own activities. Someone in my family inevitably gives it away. You’re in Michigan?! Where? Or, in the case of my Australia trip, my family didn’t have to write, tweet, Facebook or say anything. I live-tweeted the whole trip. Still, I try to not give away my activities–exact location. I try to have a house sitter. Those sorts of things to mitigate against the dangers.

The internet should be interacted with rationally. It isn’t a magical place. There are people on the ends of the intertubes. They can be bad, good and as mixed as a real life person can be. They are real live people. Even anonymously. Even remotely.

It’s a dangerous world in here, or can be.

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