I have always been wary and weary of the news creating more news than meets with reality. An example of this is the recent announcement on BBC News about the first “web-rage attack” in the UK as “proof” that the Internet and Internet chat rooms are dangerous.
That’s a leap.
According to the news article, the 47 year old man assaulted another man after a heated exchange of insults and threats in an Internet chat room. The attacker knew where the man lived, went there armed with a pickax handle, and took a buddy of his along for the fun who carried a machete.
The ratcheting up of the news fear factor came in this section:
“This case highlights the dangers of internet chat rooms, particularly with regards to giving personal details that will allow other users to discover home addresses,” said Investigating Officer Det Sgt Jean-Marc Bazzoni of Essex Police.
“All the victims were targeted by Paul Gibbons following a disagreement in a chat room and threats to kill were made on the website.”
Mr Bazzoni said Mr Jones’ “terrifying ordeal” was a consequence of “upsetting somebody he had never even met”.
“The dangers of giving personal information out in a chat room environment must never be underestimated.”
First, you have people not obeying the most simple “be nice to others” rule that governs most online chats, forums, and blogs. Debate is fine. Even arguments are fine. But personal threats are self-policied as well as moderated, or should be. They have no place online or otherwise.
Second, you have stupid people who are revealing private and personal information about themselves to people they don’t know.
On the backside of this, when you meet someone online, you have “met them”. Honestly, aren’t there people you’ve talked to via the phone or Internet that make you feel like they know you better than your own friends and family you see on a regular basis? There’s something about the anonymity that makes most people reveal more about themselves than they would if they were sitting in front of you. Still, think it through.
Before giving out your address, take time to really get to know them as you would any stranger on the street. The victim “met” and knew his attacker. He got to know him enough to hand out his address. To compound the stupidity, he not only participated in the threats, and invited the guy to follow through on them, he didn’t call the police to report it or do anything to protect himself from the actions he took part in. He “knew” the guy was capable and he provided access. All the attacker had to do was follow through on what he promised. And he did.
Be careful what you ask for.
Third, chat rooms, forums, and online communication are not “dangerous”. They are nothing more than a form of communication. What is dangerous is the fact that it involves humans. Where humans congregate, stupidity and danger tend to prevail. Blaming chat rooms is no different from blaming bars for bar fights, strip clubs for drugs, and sex shops for prostitution. It isn’t the place that makes these things happen. It is the people who go there thinking this is the place where those things happen, and then making them happen.
I travel a lot and spend a lot of time in the backwoods and wilderness. I’m constantly asked if I am afraid to be alone in the woods. The woods don’t scare me. It’s the people who come to the woods who scare me. The national parks of the world used to be safe places, until highway access made them easy to access and popular destinations. The more people came to the woods, the more dangerous the woods became. It’s the people in the woods that bring trouble, not the woods and the animals who make it their home.
Fourth, I really hate it when the news media, in their attempt to attract big attention-getting ratings, make more out of nothing than it deserves.
If the same thing happened between strangers in a bar which escalated to outside or follows them home, this would have barely been news. But because the strangers took their bar fight from the web and allowed it to follow them home, online chat rooms and forms are to blame.
I’ve been involved with online communication, forums, chats, IM, and such since its conception, going so far back that 2400 baud was considered “high speed”. If stupid, angry, and aggressive folk want to be stupid, angry, and aggressive, they will do so, be it online or in person, so don’t blame the Internet, folks. Blame yourselves.
Stupid is as stupid does.
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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network