By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. I remember Mickey Mouse, in 1939, as the sorcerer’s apprentice, deciding to see for himself just what the sorcerer could do … certain he could control the great power and even greater potentialities which the sorcerer respected and managed so well.
But we all remember that Mickey lost all control and created one escalating problem after another. And it was all set to the onrushing whirlwind of Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” (written 1867), pulsating music that contains — like the Internet itself — Force! Power! And the capacity, as Mickey came to learn to his chagrin, to overwhelm mere humans and our toehold on this planet. So, for this article about an invention of great power, even greater power to come but with a proven ability to be greatly misused, nothing less than “Night on Bald Mountain” will do.
Find it in any search engine… and play it only when you are sure to be uninterrupted. It is the perfect incidental music to this article about how — yet again — thoughtless people, selfish people, misguided people, angry people and, yes, dangerous people are perverting one of the most important developments in human history. It is an unfolding tragedy with unanswerable evidence mounting and a backlash sure to come.
Rise in anti-Semitism tied to online groups.
In the olden days of ,say, 25 years ago, it was relatively difficult for people of malice and murderous intent to find each other, meet, collude, and destroy. Now it is almost child’s play. A self-appointed leader, an individual of warped vision and an electronic touch, can create what old-time Bolsheviki would have called a “cell”. From this protected place of irresponsible behavior, the leader, in process of morphing into a mini-messiah, would recruit, proselytize and dream of when he would be God. Now this insidious process takes just a few weeks… or even days, taking on speed and momentum as it grows worldwide and threatening.
Right this minute there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of these mini-messiahs online… and they do not have to guess at the power of the ‘net or how to wield it. They have seen it in the streets of Cairo and around the world.
Hate fuels these groups and restless young people are easy targets. The disenfranchised and powerless always gravitate to the “men of destiny,” and these proliferate on the Internet… spreading venom… thereby proving to all who will listen — and there will always be such people — how superior and desirable they are.
And so Jews are hated and attacked… gay people are hated and attacked… immigrants are hated and attacked. And it can all be done under the cloak of anonymity. An informal, but revealing new report by the Massachusetts Anti-Defamation League shows just how serious this situation is and predicts more of the same… for every hate group needs a scapegoat and these targets are already well known.
The report by the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights organization, is a compilation of records from local law enforcement agencies, along with reports from victims and witnesses of harassment or hate crimes. 18 percent of the anti-Jewish incidents involved a form of electronic communication — easy, irresponsible, cowardly, anonymous.
Among many worrying aspects of this matter, this fact is perhaps the most unsettling: most hate crime offenders are between the ages of 14 and 22. They are Internet savvy and remorseless. “The Internet has become this feeding ground for individuals who hold these kinds of bigoted views,” said Jack McDevitt, a criminologist at Northwestern University.
Young find online abuse pervasive, poll says.
What do you think would happen if every youth between, say, 14 and 22 years old was suddenly granted the gift of being invisible… of being able to act out their fantasies, even the most disgusting, demeaning, deleterious and dangerous? Well, you need not wonder… for that is the state of the Internet today. Yes, at this very moment large sections of this often thoughtless, careless population are engaged in perpetrating human abuses and outrages which in the full glare of sunlight all but a few would eschew as too dangerous to do.
But now these young people, freed from the trammels of civil and acceptable behavior, give rein to the darker side of the human nature. Lying, misrepresentation, false identities are all part of their daily life online… devilry is considered cool… with the “goodie goodies” who aim for “truth, justice and the American way” disparaged and denigrated as “uncool,” the ultimate put down.
Of course in this heated environment, where up is down, some people, recognizing no limits, go too far; indeed the situation is tailor-made for the worst possible behavior from the largest number of perpetrators.
A new Associated Press-MTV poll of this youthful population finds that most of them — 56 percent — have been the target of some type of online taunting, harassment, or bullying, a slight increase over just two years ago.
Fully a third of those interviewed affirm they have engaged in “sexting”, the sharing of naked photos or videos of sexual activity. And of course here the temptation is overwhelming to share these with people, lots of people, globally who of course continue the “sharing” process which in due course brings maximum embarrassment, cat-calls, insults, aggressive behaviors of every kind — and so much shame and confusion that suicide sometimes seems a better alternative than life amidst so much derision and disdain.
All this is called “digital abuse”, and it is a growing fact of our vicious, viral age. It is something every wired young person (and that is most of them) must know and deal with on a daily basis. And in due course, far too many of them will engage in activities where hurting people intentionally will be the order of their day.
What can be done?
During the writing of this article, I asked a valued colleague what he would recommend to solve, or at the very least, curtail all these unacceptable behaviors. He paused a minute and said (as I thought he might) “we must draw a line to determine what is allowed… and what is not.”
His words sounded reasonable, entirely justified, and timely. But there is no solution where words like “controls” and “censorship” are concerned. Who would appoint the people who would decide what needed to be controlled and what didn’t… and how would they decide? And that’s the problem… we are equipped for license and outrage… we are not equipped to curtail and control.
That is why, for now, we must tolerate even the most intrusive, abashing, humiliating occurrences while the problem, like an adolescent pimple, grows and festers, until we are ready to pop it and regain some of our embattled civilities and human responsibilities. For we cannot throw the baby of the Internet out with its bath water, no matter how toxic and revolting that water is and will surely become.
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About The Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at worldprofit.com and JeffreyLantArticles.com
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