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Blackmail using social media

Monday, December 22, 2014
Science and Society

The recent highly publicised hacking of Sony Pictures has again highlighted and brought to the fore, in dramatic fashion, the dangers of cybercrime. It morphed into a national security issue with the threat of inflicting serious harm on people and properties. 

A case of blackmail on national and global levels as cinemas around the world would be hesitant to screen the movie in question and people fearful to go and view it. Maintaining law and order in the cyber space is certainly not an easy task.

Blackmail is not a new criminal activity. Criminals and bullies have however, now adopted the use of social media like Facebook, you tube and twitter, in pursuit of their nefarious activities. Neither individuals nor companies are exempt. Neither the young nor old are spared. 

In 2012, a 12-year-old Canadian girl committed suicide as a result of the threat of cyber bullying/blackmail, and in 2013, a Scottish boy also committed suicide because of similar threats. These are but two extreme examples of the deadly results arising from the abuse of social media. 

Quite recently, several British men became victims of what is now being referred to as “sextortion”; the engaging in online chats with models. These were filmed and the men were threatened with their publication if they did not pay the monies requested. In fact, this racket has grown into well organised criminal enterprises. 

It is going to be some time before effective measures can be instituted to counter the dark and lawless side of social media for it is far too diffused, decentralised and ubiquitous. To put this into perspective, think about the difficulty in trying to control rumours in days gone by. 

Telephones, of the land line variety, made this process more difficulty as networking was freed from the constraints of geography, though still limited by the need to call at particular times and the cost. Smart phones using twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook platforms now allows for, what is in effect, instantaneous two-way connectivity and “ringside” views of events taking place any and everywhere. 

Centralised control or censure are thus not possible if freedom of expression is to be maintained. After- the-event censure is possible but by then it is usually too late, as was with the cases of the airing on you tube of the gruesome beheading of hostages and the rants and threats made on twitter by those intent on unleashing mayhem and chaos on society.  When complaints were made, the videos were taken down and the twitter accounts frozen but the damage was already done. 

It is common knowledge that the value of both news and rumours are very time dependent and thus the initial airing or viewing has the greatest impact.

In light of this, it is incumbent on the individual to exercise due care, inclusive of censorship. Children, before being given access to smart phones and the social media platform, must be informed of the dangers of the cyber space. After all, do we not tell them not to talk to and share information with strangers? It must be made clear to them that this includes strangers in the cyber space where it is a lot easier for wolves to dress up like grannies to devour our children. 

Pictures and personal information, in the pre-digital era, was generally not available for public consumption. The sharing of pictures and thoughts on Facebook means that a wider network of people become privy to this information; a network that can be easily penetrated by blackmailers, hijackers and stalkers. 

It is the technological revolution that birthed the various social media platforms. The control and regulation of the dark and evil side of this technology can only be brought under control by a social revolution: a return to the good solid human values of proper parenting and personal integrity.


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