May 24, 2009

It's a WORLD WIDE WEB. Got it?

There are Internet users out there --of all ages-- who still believe that no one of any real authority will ever read what they post online. These people also think that no one will figure out who's actually behind their screen name. These people are...not that bright.

Every case of web stupidity is a lesson and a warning to the rest of us. And yet such ignorance persists. The pinheads will be with you always.

My local news this weekend reignited my fire about this issue. A 30-year-old resident of Coventry Township, OH went on Craigslist's "Rants and Raves" page to complain about a Summit County Deputy Sheriff.

Lori Baker-Stella, the Deputy Sheriff in question, had cited this so-called adult's mother for letting the family dog run loose during the previous week.

In his Craigslist post, the man wrote that "someone should beat [the Deputy Sheriff], rape her, cut her hair off and shoot her with her own gun and shoot other deputies that come by."

Guess what? He was arrested. Quel surprise!

This type of imbecilic online behavior isn't limited to the US of A.

Last March, a Swedish 17-year-old wrote that he planned to copy the actions of a German teen who had opened fire at his former school, killing 9 students and 3 teachers. In addition to detailing how his attack at a school in Lund, Sweden would be carried out, the teen also included a photo of himself holding a gun.

Guess what? He was arrested, too!

Then there's the people who, lucky to have a job in this economy, use their employer's e-mail account to wreak havoc online. Last summer, a 42-year old woman working at a nursing home in Beachwood, OH sent a nastygram to celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. (Another case from my area! What's up with THAT?)

Using the nursing home's account, the woman commented on Hilton's blog, calling him a "fat gay pig."

Of course, in these post-Miss California days, everybody knows that Mr. Hilton does NOT go quietly into any good night. He responded by publishing her entire message with her name and address. His fans sent her several hundred angry e-mails (obviously, to her work account) AND called the nursing home's administrators, who promptly fired her. She is now suing Perez for $25 million.

Dumb and dumber. Maybe he shouldn't have published her info, but can she really prove that her bosses wouldn't have snooped out her misuse of their e-mail and fired her anyway?

One thing that helps people think they can get away with web bad acts is the fact that legislators at all levels are slow to catch up with what's happening on the Internet. That's why Lori Drew, the defendant in the country's first cyberbullying case, is only facing misdemeanor charges of accessing computers without authorization.

(Surely you remember Lori -- the St. Louis-area hyperMom who pretended to be a boy having MySpace conversations with a girl she suspected of badmouthing her daughter. After the fictitious boy broke up with 13-year-old Megan Meier in 2006 by writing that the world would be better without her, Megan hung herself.)

But just because cybercrime laws are slow to materialize, it would be foolish -- IS foolish -- to think that you can say anything you want on the Internet without consequences.

The first conviction of an online hate crime occurred more than 10 years ago when a 21-year-old Los Angeles man sent racist death threats by email to 59 Asian students. The case proved the point that a threat sent through cyberspace is no different than sending it over telephone wires or the U.S. Mail.

A professor at Western New England College School of Law told CNET News, "One of the things many people like about the Net is the anonymity factor. But just because the Net has been this sort of fantasy land, isn't going to get you off the hook when it comes to [criminal activity]."

True dat.

And yet...

In January, a 47-year-old Southern California man was charged threatening a presidential candidate for his October 2008 post on the Yahoo Finance board titled "Shoot the nig."

I wish I was making this up.

While I've refrained from using the names of any of these cybernuts lest they gain more publicity, I do want to share this particular post in its entirety:

"County fkd for another 4+ years, what nig has done ANYTHING right???? Long term???? Never in history, except sambos. Fk the niggar, he will have a 50 cal in the head soon."

Two lessons here. One, we are not as anonymous online as we think. The quiet tappity-tap on a keyboard in the solitude of one's room or office is misleading.

Two, we are not as "post-racial" as some think, either.

1 comment:

Bruce Trachtenberg said...

Just think of the endless material you could write about if you wanted to comment on people's stupidity.

That said, even well-intentioned bloggers need to be careful these days or face a lawsuit that can cost lots to defend against. The other advice -- from a WSJ article about this trend -- is to get liability coverage.