The future just isn’t what it used to be. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to catch up with episodes of a Discovery series called Prophets of Technology. It’s a good series, littered with immortality-seeking androids, psychotic A.I., and an Empire ruled by a pair of rejects from a mystic order of knights who wield an “elegant weapon for a more civilised age.”
It’s a good series, but it’s getting harder and harder to reconcile the dystopian futures (even if they happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) I grew up with and the real world. In science fiction books, and even more so in the movies, evil often wears something stylishly sinister and spews edgy dialogue.
In the real world, it’s usually personified by some low-level mook who wears a bad goatee.
At least, that’s the image we get these days following the Reddit and Amanda Todd/Anonymous debacles. Reddit’s story is fairly straight forward. One of the site’s most notorious trolls, known for posting all kinds of vile stuff on the site, was outed by Gawker.com, a rival site. Michael Brutsch, who has admitted to being the troll Violentacrez and even allowed himself to be interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, has since lost his job and become one of the most vilified people in US media (Brutsch not Cooper, although I wish Cooper would give up his reporting job and go back to the Amazing Race). He’ll probably get a book deal (again, Brutsch not Cooper). There is no indication yet over whether Brutsch could face criminal charges. However, the Reddit case is clean and simple when compared to the Amanda Todd/Anonymous scandal.
For those who missed the news, the online collective Anonymous out-ed a Canadian man they say was responsible for the suicide of 15-year-old Todd, who left an online video of the bullying and sexual blackmail she faced online, and later, in the real world.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police cleared the man, who was being held on other charges involving issues with another underage girl, but Anonymous then pointed the finger at a Wisconsin-based man who goes by the online name of “Viper.”
Police have yet to make an arrest on either side of the border, but then again, a spokesperson for the RCMP sound that as many as 12 people are assigned to a case such as this. That may seem a lot until you consider the actual number of people committing sex crimes online, provided you can actually find any. None of the stats I found offered any insight into just how often this type of activity occurs.
However, www.enough.org, a site that offers information on combating online sexual predators, says that in 2010, there where over 644,865 sexual offenders in the US, or about 0.002 per cent of the population.
There are by some estimates over a billion people online. If the numbers are any indication, that means about 2 million sexual predators are online around the world. Twelve cops per case doesn’t really start to even scratch the surface of what is becoming a global problem.
This has spurred hacktivist groups like Anonymous to intervene. Twenty years from now Anonymous is going to be a case study in every Ethics class that gets taught. Is it ethical to use technology to invade someone’s privacy in the hopes of exposing a crime? Ethics aside, it certainly isn’t legal, but I would rather see tax dollars being used to catch paedophiles instead of Anonymous hackers.
Ethics and legal questions
However, even that may change, as reaction to Anonymous’ antics was equally chilling. A Facebook page was quickly created calling for the death of the first man outed, and included what was supposedly his phone number. In typical online fashion, no one involved in the cybermob actually did anything that involved them getting out of a chair, but the potential for real violence was there.
Anonymous aren’t the only one raising ethics and legal questions.
Following Anonymous’ outings, most news organisations did not run the names of either of the men accused, presumably for legal (libel) reasons. A Google search, however, offered those names up in about 0.24 second.
Exactly what’s the use of having news organisations if social media, which lacks any real gatekeeping function, provides that information instead? I’d like to say the answer to that is credibility, but let’s not kid ourselves. Scandal and sex sell. In terms of value, credibility ranks down there with Zip Disks.
This is where we are: teenage suicides, vigilante groups, understaffed police organisations, general public mayhem, and media organisations that do little more than respond instead of actually investigate. This is what technology for the masses has actually delivered. Sadly, it doesn’t sound much different from life before the Internet, does it?
Frankly, I’d have much rather lived in a world overrun by androids.