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Oh what a tangled web we weave … … When first we twitter to deceive

Date

John Silvester and Andrew Rule

Zoom in on this story. Explore all there is to know.

FIRST a confession. Your correspondents still think social media involves two bottles of claret at the Press Club after first edition.

And that Twitter, Facebook and MySpace are the names of popular bands, whose energetic tunes are played regularly at late-night discotheques. YouTube, one can only imagine, is a frozen dessert originally from Sweden.

Yet every now and again an editor, having just finished a bottle of his favourite ''medicine'' cunningly concealed within a Dan Murphy paper bag, will lurch into the reporters' room and urge us to embrace the worldwide web. He will then head to the executive lounge for a short power-nap before chairing the afternoon news conference with vim and vigour.

There is no doubt the information super highway is a wonderful thing. It can answer nearly any query - such as who would win a fight between a polar bear and a rhinoceros? (A: Rhino on points).

While business, personal finance, education and the global economy now rely on the web there is a massive downside. Increasingly, experts in several fields are expressing concern about this unfiltered information explosion and its long-term fallout.

Google boss Eric Schmidt recently told The Wall Street Journal young people might soon have to change their names to escape their embarrassing online past. ''The internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy we've ever had,'' he said.

The managing director of one of Australia's largest private investigations firms, Mark Grover, says his company finds around 40 bad debtors a week by following their cyber footprints.

Despite repeated warnings, police have continued to email inappropriate material to each other. In August four were sacked and two demoted for their stupidity. There will be more.

A director of one large Australian accountancy firm was impressed with the female applicant for a senior position. That was until he checked the internet to find her posing nude and discussing sex in lurid detail. That was the end of her job application - although he did download the pictures (for safekeeping).

A budding federal politician will be hoping all copies of him posing in a Nazi uniform have been destroyed, otherwise his career will have the trajectory of a rusted Doodlebug.

One woman vented her feelings about her boss on Facebook, forgetting she had accepted him as a cyber-friend. Oops.

The culture of the self-obsessed has found a natural home in Twitter-land. ''Actress'' Paris Hilton has 2.6 million followers who wait breathlessly for such life-changing updates as: ''Just went to Petco and bought all my pets a bunch of treats, toys and the cutest Halloween costumes.''

Which raises two questions: A) Who cares? and B) What sort of twisted person dresses their dogs as werewolves?

So the real unanswered question about the web is how can something so brilliant make us so dumb?

On Google there are just over 4 million hits for Winston Churchill but more than 36 million for Paris Hilton. One saved the future of the English-speaking world while the other became famous for forgetting to wear underpants. Both, it must be said, liked to drink champagne in the bath.

Everyone makes stupid comments. Most disappear into the atmosphere moments after they have been uttered in shelter sheds, golf courses or public bars.

But those who let their thumbs do the talking can end up losing more than their dignity. Columnists are sacked, Test cricketers fined and Olympic heroes humiliated because of an indiscreet tweet.

We have been told we should rejoice that the new age means everyone has a voice in the cyber-democracy. We disagree.

Once the media had gatekeepers to maintain some form of balance in the world. Letters editors were assigned to dispatch correspondence from the barking mad into the nearest bin while publishing the views of people who were at least on nodding terms with rational thought.

Now the mean, the mad and the nasty just bang out comments on anything and press ''send'' to launch themselves into cyberspace.

Men in Y-fronts and stained singlets take a break from surfing cheerleader sites to editorialise on how society's standards are slipping.

Ladies in fluffy slippers sip sweet sherry before leaping online to express disgust at young people's binge drinking.

Bike-riding halfwits in Lycra and polyester, who live on a diet of brown rice and goji berries, take time out from clogging our roads to trumpet their views on obesity. (Question: If they are so eco-friendly why do they wear clothes made from petroleum byproducts?)

Has anyone else noticed that since every nut with a keyboard has decided they are the next Walter Cronkite there seems to be less graffiti on toilet walls? They no longer need a full Texta and an empty cubicle to vent their feelings. Now they can just blog away.

While many who should be old enough to know better seem intent on making fools of themselves, it is the young who are in danger.

In one case under investigation police say teenage girls have been blackmailed into sexual relationships because of compromising images posted on the web.

Melbourne adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says some parents think that when their children are at home and the doors are locked the family is safe.

He says unfettered access to the internet can be disastrous. ''There has been a fundamental failure in parental responsibility. There is neglect mixed with affluence. The parents have no idea their children are heading into so much trouble.''

He says it is middle Melbourne - where the parents are downstairs on the chardy while the kids are upstairs on the net - that is the most vulnerable.

The head of the sexual crimes squad, Detective Inspector Glenn Davies, says the internet child exploitation team runs regular sting operations to catch men who use the internet to ''groom'' under-age sex partners.

Davies says adolescents need to understand that photos and comments on the web can be permanent. ''We have images of children that have been taken innocently in Melbourne that have ended up circulating the world on child pornography sites.''

No detectives in the sexual crimes squad allow their children unsupervised access to the internet.

Maybe we should listen to the experts.

Feel free to email your thoughts. We shall, of course, ignore them.

 

10 comments so far

  • The (alleged) detectives set a good example - PARENTAL control, not GOVERNMENTAL control. Parents can take responsibility for their children, the rest of us can make our own choices like big boys and girld. What we don't need is Senator Conroy and co telling us what we are allowed to look at.

    Commenter
    Patrick Bateman
    Date and time
    October 23, 2010, 11:22AM
    • "No detectives in the sexual crimes squad allow their children unsupervised access to the internet."

      Any parent who does allow for unsupervised access is plain irresponsible. Simple as that.

      Commenter
      rar222
      Date and time
      October 23, 2010, 11:31AM
      • @Patrick Bateman - October 23, 2010, 12:22PM

        Don't get me started on Senator Conroy and Co's internet filtering scheme. In the last week I've had to circumvent China's Great Firewall because of stupid access restrictions. When will the government learn that average 15 year old can do this if they want to?

        Commenter
        rar222
        Date and time
        October 23, 2010, 11:33AM
        • People are often idiots. There are people on the internet. Ergo, the internet contains idiots. Move along people, nothing to see here...

          There's no byline, so I'm assuming that this mess is simply the work of your latest work experience student, but a couple of further comments at the risk of treating this more seriously than it deserves... This run-on, stream of consciousness opinion piece veers from rambling satire and poor attempts at humour, to dial-a-quote silliness masquerading as fact.

          For what it's worth, of course no detectives in the sexual crimes squad allow their children unsupervised access to the internet. They deal with perverts day in and day out, and their perspective of risk is therefore seriously out of whack with reality. (Who did the research for this throw-away assertion, by the way? I'd be curious to know who's supervising these kids around the computer when mum and dad are at work.)

          Of the hundreds of millions of people who use the web every day of their lives, how many genuinely get into trouble? The only difference between the internet and real life is that the media are more likely to publicise stuff-ups on the internet because it's an easy Google with an hour and a half to go before a pressing deadline and column inches to fill.

          Meh.

          Commenter
          Rob
          Location
          Montrose, Vic
          Date and time
          October 23, 2010, 11:37AM
          • I just want to know who that accountancy firm is, so I can be sure not to spend any money at a company which discriminates against people who enjoy free and frank sexual expression.

            Commenter
            richard
            Date and time
            October 23, 2010, 11:42AM
            • Technology is amoral and purely serves to magnify the expression of our capacities, savoury or unsavoury. The problem is trying to stay one step ahead of the degenerates.

              Good point about the graffiti.

              Commenter
              Earnest
              Location
              Carlton
              Date and time
              October 23, 2010, 12:06PM
              • 'So the real unanswered question about the web is how can something so brilliant make us so dumb?'

                Remember how the introduction of television was touted as an amazing educational tool...?

                Commenter
                Mick
                Location
                Melbourne
                Date and time
                October 23, 2010, 12:17PM
                • Thank you Patrick you are spot on. People seem to go straight from children should not be able to access all the net offers to no one should be able to access all that the net offers. Just as you would not let a 10 year old loose in a major city by themselves, they should not be allowed on-line without supervision.

                  There is a really worrying trend at the moment for issues concerning children to be treated as a issue for legislation and censorship rather than an increase in parental responsibility

                  Commenter
                  Sarah
                  Location
                  Melbourne VIC
                  Date and time
                  October 23, 2010, 12:38PM
                  • To say that a lack of internet monitoring by parents is irresponsible and neglectful is unfair as it is based on the premiss that ALL parents are aware of the potential dangers that using the internet presents.

                    I'm sure many parents are ignorant or naive to the issues involved with social media and unfettered internet access.

                    Moreover, I think those that are aware of the dangers may lack the skills to discuss with their children ways to protect themselves and instead resort to the (lazier and easier) option of thinking 'the internet is bad, you can't use it unless I'm watching you'.

                    This represents an even wider societal problem of parents needing to spend more time working and having less quality time to spend with their children and teach them things like 'stranger danger on the internet'.

                    Commenter
                    Ange
                    Location
                    Melbourne, Vic
                    Date and time
                    October 23, 2010, 1:56PM
                    • I don't think the solution is to restrict children's access to theft internet so much as parents need to discuss the risks with their children. Adolescents are at the greatest risk but they will inevitably find a way to get unsupervised internet access (just as they can get alcohol without their parents knowledge).
                      So instead of trying to shield kids from online danger lets try and teach them the skills to keep themselves safe. Because try as we might we can't protect them forever.

                      Commenter
                      lv
                      Date and time
                      October 23, 2010, 2:12PM

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