I am sure you all have heard the English proverb, "sticks and stones can break your bones, but words will never harm you". But I wonder if that is still true in our modern cyber connected world, with its social networks and anonymous trolls? I mean you don't even have to be famous or a public figure to have some stranger hating on you, just because they can safely do it from behind closed doors, hidden, using fake names and false social media profiles. It truly is a new phenomenon that is on the rise everywhere.
A significant milestone in cyber terrorism was reached when Sony Pictures recently cancelled the theatrical release of their political satire comedy, The Interview, due to threats by North Korea, who warned there would be 911 style attacks on theaters if anyone dared to go see this movie. Hackers leaked private messages between top executives at Sony about the stars in their upcoming films, which were thoughtless and unkind, causing many uncomfortable and awkward moments in Hollywood.
Just look at the way Jennifer Lawrence's private photos were shared recently by hackers who managed to extract it from her iCloud account. Privacy is a thing of the past. We live in a culture that loves to know everything about our celebrities, especially the juicy gossip that old Hollywood worked so hard to keep away from the public. Stars used to be like butterflies; they were seen but never touched. The public was always kept in the dark except what the media chose to release about the stars they admired. Nowadays we know way too much about our public figures, and no one is off the list, not even the President of United States.
All of this is a sign of a new era, an era of cyber crime where anyone can be a victim. The only tools needed are a computer or mobile device and an Internet connection. Their weapon of mass destruction is words. Their primary quest is to spread false and hateful messages, which are often exaggerated, clocking up hits on their websites as the result. We live in a "gotcha" world where we find it entertaining to see people in embarrassing situations. Cyber criminals expose their victims' salacious endeavors online for the world to see, knowing full well the pandemonium they will cause. Stretching the boundaries of the freedom of speech granted to them, these haters, stalkers and hackers find a sadistic pleasure in hurting their quarry, causing major disruption in their lives. Legal action is not always effective, as many of these people do not have much to lose so legal recourse dose not deter them.
We as the public and users of the web need to protect our online privacy. This includes safeguarding our personal information both on the hard drives of our computers or mobile devices, as well as our social media or cloud accounts. In an age where privacy is fast becoming a luxury of the past. There are, however, effective methods in which we can protect our personal data and physical location. Information technology experts offer some useful tips on how best to protect our online privacy.
I've been the prey of cyber hackers, haters and stalkers, so I know firsthand how it feels to have strangers discuss my life. Every word I speak and every action I make is taken out of context as they try very hard to falsify reality. I've had people writing blogs about me which are filled with false accusations and outrageous claims. Even though there is no evidence to back up any of these allegations, in some way the damage is done. When a lie is told, 50% of the readers believe it, just because it is said online. The other 50% may have doubt about you from that point on, even though under US laws, you're innocent until proven guilty. That is one of the main reasons why we see negative advertisement campaigns during a presidential candidate run. The opposition knows just by spreading lies about their opponent and creating doubt, the damage is done.
Recently, it seems the laws are finally changing and the powers-that-be have realized there is a new problem with Internet stalkers and cyber bullies. Tougher measures had to be taken, as in the revenge porn case, where a man was convicted for the first time under the revenge porn law in California. In this incident a man sought revenge on his ex-girlfriend by maliciously posting naked photos along with obscene messages about the woman on her employer's Facebook page, encouraging them to fire her. A judge found him guilty and sentenced the man to one year in jail under the State of California's revenge porn law.
Who are these keyboard cowards and why do they find pleasure in hurting others' reputations? Is it all in the name of getting attention or is it fifteen minutes of fame they are seeking? I wonder what the psychological reasons are for anonymous trolls to spread their venomous messages so easily online? A person's reputation or a company's public image can be ruined by just a few bad reviews. We have all seen how a movie's opening weekend at the box office can be affected by poor reviews from the initial screenings.
Cyber criminals find it entertaining to cause havoc and do so with no conscience at all. They are motivated by several factors, including: political, addiction, curiosity, boredom, fame, revenge, power or financial gain. After some research into the psychology of cyber malefactors, I found it is very similar to the physical forms of these actions. Criminal profilers have made the connection between cyber criminal activity and abnormal psychology, such as, compulsive disorder, narcissism, antisocial personality disorder or addictive behavior.
I found an interesting study about the psychological profiling of cyber stalkers, where 2 general categories are identified: the Psychopathic Personality Stalker and the Psychotic Personality Stalker. These two categories are then separated into four main classifications indicated in an article from the Criminal Library including simple obsessional, love obsessional, erotomanic and false victimization syndrome. Although the study focuses on stalkers, most cyber criminals fall into these categories as well.
An in-depth look at these four classes shows that each type of stalking is slightly different. Simple obsessional stalkers have engaged in a previous romantic relationship with the victim. This type of stalker seeks revenge or ultimately tries to resume the relationship with their ex through blackmail and fear. Love obsessional stalkers, (also known as obsessed fan syndrome), have had no previous relationship with the target. They fantasize about an invented love connection and desperately try to create a relationship with their person of interest. When their actions fail, they may try to intimidate their love interest to take notice of them. These stalkers often have mental disorders like schizophrenia, paranoia or bi-polar disorder and usually direct their attention at a celebrity or public figure. Similarly erotomaniacs are under the delusion that their target is in love with them. They begin with simple, subtle expressions of affection which will quickly intensify. When their gestures go ignored or the victim shows lack of interest, actions of anger, frustration and violence can follow. This is similar to love obsessional stalkers but lacks the link to psychiatric disorders. Lastly are people who display False Victimization Syndrome. Perpetrators blame another person, real or imaginary, for stalking them, to cultivate sympathy and support, seeking attention from anyone willing to listen.
The ancient peoples of the world knew words were sacred. They did not utter them without thinking what their words could mean or do. They knew sound is vibration, and vibration can affect matter both positively and negatively. Some of us learned that at school. I remember planting two seeds in a pot, just divided by a piece of cardboard, speaking sweet words of love and support to one side and screamed profanity and anger at the other side. Guess which side flourished and was healthier?
So words do hurt and in some cases they do cut straight to the bone. Words can kill; they can push a person over the edge of despair. In a time where technology is fast changing our world, we have been cast into a new arena. This new battlefield no longer sports gladiators sparring fiercely in mortal combat. Instead, our new enemies are anonymous keyboard cowards who effectively hide in the shadows of social networks, assassinating people's character and reputation one word at a time.
- Cyber Hacker photo by Jay Tavare
- Graphic Text by Jay Tavare