There are also other types of ‘shouldn’t have put that online’ incidents that have resulted in theft or property damage that I’ve heard of. For example, there have been a few cases in the UK (when I find links I’ll post them, I can’t remember many details.) where a teenager had posted on Facebook or another social networking site that their parents were out of town for some reason and they had the house to themselves all weekend. The plan had been to have a few friends, and a few of their friends, over for a ‘bring your own booze’ sort of party. What actually happened in these cases was that everyone with access to that person’s page would see the ‘invite’, lots of them would announce it on their page to everyone they knew, they’d tell their friends, they’d tell their friends, and so on, and so on (gratuitious ‘Wayne’s World’ reference!), and on the night of the party hundreds of strangers would turn up, things would get out of hand and the house would end up wrecked, the police would be called because of the noise, stuff would get stolen, and that sort of thing.
Again, not something really caused by the internet or social networking itself, but by what might otherwise be intelligent people (but possibly not) leaving their brains in neutral when they go online, and doing stuff they wouldn’t do in the ‘real world’. The psychology of the internet is an interesting thing, like how lots of people turn into the world’s leading expert in whatever’s being spoken about when they’re online, and miraculously becomes much braver, so that a meek little creature who wouldn’t feel up to getting in an argument at work, school, in the pub or whatever can go on Youtube or some forum and abuse random strangers, or spout total nonsense. Which in turn helps breed sites like this to document and study the nonsense of course! I think the presumed anonymity and safety afforded by being behind a screen, at an undisclosed location that might be a world away have something to do with it. But so do peoples’ aspirations and self esteem. So you could go onto a custom car forum and have your car critiqued by a buff, rich, Californian drag racer who is actually a lonely kid from Swansea who might get his Gran’s Ford Escort when he turns 17, or google how to do just about anything and recieve succinct advice from a Cambridge professor who lectures in X Y and Z, who’s actually a guy somewhere, who lives in a house somewhere and does a job somewhere but doesn’t know any better than you do. In any case, the way people behave online is interesting.
(Of course there’s a darker side to that last paragraph, as if blatant dishonesty can’t get nasty to begin with. So of coure there’s all the trusting people who’ve had their money stolen by alleged African princes and the amazing businesses that the mysterious ‘they’ are said “don’t want you to know about”, or cases like the recent UK one where teenage girls were befriended by an online teenage lesbian looking for a relationship, and would be persuaded, blackmailed or intimidated into doing things on camera they didn’t want to, by what turned out in the ‘real world’ to be a male nurse in his late 30s, using someone else’s photo. Thankfully they caught that guy, but unfortunately others like him exist.)
None of which justifies penalising people who go online as a whole, or demanding censorship and bans on social networking as you occasionally hear from the tabloid press (who, curiously enough, in the UK at least have a habit, in spite of their self appointed moral mission to protect kids from ‘filth’, are glad to publish in their papers and online photos of young women, often very young women, wearing barely-existant outfits and posed in deameaning postures clearly designed to be sexually provocative. Quite a contradiction really, but if I veer any further off topic there’s no telling where I’ll wash up!), but you’re right that people really have to be more careful with the sort of thing they put online. It’s interesting that I’ve known people who are downright suspicious and cynical almost all the time, but online will trust anyone and broadcast their entire lives. As I say, it’s an interesting area of psychology, we even had a separate Cyberpsychology module at my uni, I didn’t take it but I would’ve liked to (it was either that or Counselling Psych. due to timetabling issues and that suits my ambitions much more closely.)