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> Monday, March 29th, 2010 > Lifestyles > Interwebology: Immoral or amoral?
Interwebology: Immoral or amoral?
Click here to read more Interrobang articles written by Amy Plachta
Published: Monday, March 29th, 2010
Technology is cold. It is ones and zeros, facts and data. Context is irrelevant and softening the blow is the job of the user. Facebook had no opinion on how Angela and Maryanne Vourlis felt when they woke up on their 20th birthday and learned of their brother Bobby’s death the night before from their Facebook feed. Nor did it care that it had been used by Candace Bridger to publicize semi-nude photos of a former friend after a falling out. Twitter was little more than a medium for stirring animosity between Jameg Blake and Kwame Dancy hours before the former shot the latter in the neck, killing him.
The medium may not always be the message, but sometimes it is an all too honest mirror.
During the 2010 Olympics, Canadians used Google to find out about the opening ceremonies and the men’s hockey final above all else. Koreans focused their searches on the women’s figure skating events. Americans, however, used Google to search for videos of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death more than any other event.
This kind of morbid curiosity is not an isolated event. Just a few weeks later Google searches peaked for “killer whale kills trainer footage.” In fact, interest was so disturbingly high that some sites were set up purporting to host the footage but were instead built to disseminate malware (or, for the less vindictive, a Rickroll) to the offending computers.
There are still some services out there seeking to use the Internet for good. Police officers in Indiana used a fugitive’s love of World of Warcraft to track his IP and apprehend him after he’d fled to Canada. Ottawa-area Crime Stoppers have turned to social networking to get more tips from a younger demographic that may not watch the evening news. County Vehicular Crimes Prosecutor Warren Diepraam of Montgomery County, Texas, used the threat of public humiliation by tweeting DUI offenders’ names to deter drunk drivers over the holiday season.
But even in social justice Newton’s Third Law still holds, as drivers across North America have started tweeting police checkpoints to help seasonal revelers evade detection. Brit Craig Lynch used Facebook photos and status updates to taunt Scotland Yard after he escaped from a minimum security prison in Suffolk last December. He was eventually caught, but not until he gained 40,000 fans and four months of freedom.
Facebook scams are also being leveraged by both sides. At the worst end of the spectrum, McAfee sent out warnings earlier this month after users received emails telling them their Facebook passwords had been reset and needed to be re-entered at a linked site. That same week Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief spokesman and communications director Dimitri Soudas blushed when his security was compromised by a mischievous Quebec television show. The show made a fake account under the name Christopher David Meer (a person of interest in two 2007 Alberta arson cases) and sent out friend requests. A number of high profile users friended the account, though Soudas soon deleted his account entirely when he realized he had exposed photos of himself, his family, his friends, and his home to a scam.
This tendency to friend strangers was illustrated last fall when the inquisitive IT security firm Sophos created two accounts using made-up names (anagrams for “false identity” and “stolen identity,” in fact) and profile pictures of a duck and a pair of cats. Each account proceeded to friend 100 people at random. Ninety-five people friended one of the two accounts, and one even received eight friend invitations from total strangers.
On the somewhat questionable side of good, police officers are using this naive openness in their investigations. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace are all used during investigations, and not just superficially to trawl for public information. Sometimes fake accounts are created and friend requests sent out in the hopes of accessing private information as well, and with moderate success.
Of course, one needn’t always dig all that deep. This week two Americans came under investigation by the Secret Service after tweeting that President Obama ought to be assassinated. This incident raised the question of what was worse: people not having enough sense to smokescreen their criminal intentions, or not having enough sense to know that even insincere death threats against the president of the United States would be taken seriously.
Some question the morality of the content the Internet provides, and are quick to censor, filter, and block at will. But perhaps the problem isn’t the dissemination of knowledge, but rather the character of the people doing the dissemination.