Do digital networks make a difference to the scope, scale and severity of social harm? Considering four distinct digital affordances for crime (access, concealment, evasion and incitement) this book asks whether they are simply new packaging for old problems, with no greater effect on society overall – or is cyberculture significantly escalating illegality?
Matthew David gives fresh insights into online harms and behaviours in the fields of hate, obscenity, corruptions of citizenship and appropriation, offering a comprehensive and integrated approach for those both new and experienced in the field of cybercrime.
Addressing four distinct digital affordances (access, concealment, evasion and incitement), across four distinct fields of criminal harm (hate, obscenity, corruptions of citizenship and appropriation), this chapter introduces classic debates and cutting-edge research to pose the question: does the digital make a difference in relation to crime; or does old wine in new bottles merely reproduce perennial problems and their solutions, thereby cancelling one another out in the process? This introduction then highlights, first, that digital affordances are symmetrical in principle, but not always in practice; and, second, that while symmetrical, digital affordances polarize along such lines of symmetry – creating increased scope for (while not compelling) extreme oppositions. Adopting a comprehensive and integrated approach to the four affordances and four fields of criminal harm, that, taken in isolation, allow commentators to talk past one another, this introduction frames the arguments that will be developed through the rest of the book.
In an information society, can jaw-jaw really be a form of war-war? Certainly, the ground has been sown for a clash of liberties: when the right of expression confronts the right to security. This chapter applies David Wall’s transformation test to the themes of so-called cyber terrorism and hate speech online. Has the digital made a difference? Clearly, digital networks can be used to distribute propaganda by those advocating politically motivated violence, and to spread hate speech; but do such affordances actually translate into the increased violence some seek to achieve? Digital networks can be used to trigger a bomb, but have not been used successfully to crash a plane or blow up a nuclear power station (as has been depicted in fiction). The internet can be used to recruit and plan violence, but such channels are not so anonymous and unregulated as might be imagined.
The changing composition of stalkers and the new dynamics of interpersonal revelation, surveillance and interaction suggest that the digital really has made a difference. However, while stalking online shows different characteristics from that carried out in predominantly ‘real-world’ space and time, the most harmful forms of stalking and bullying retain many traditional characteristics, which trolling now replicates as well. Online interaction increases scope for being targeted, and expectations to reveal information about one’s actions, location and preferences creates opportunities for bullies, stalkers and trolls. Can we and should we seek to prohibit certain forms of display and surveillance, and does that mean protecting some people from themselves or blaming internet users for their own victimization? While particular spaces swarm with trolls, finding one’s tribe is easier online. While ‘mobile network youth’ experience new forms of harassment online, it is also increasingly possible to find communities of support and identification.
Digital networks increase scope to access explicit sexual and violent content. The question of concealment and evasion take on a distinct meaning in relation to non-consensually circulated (‘revenge’) pornography. However, regulation is possible here precisely because those that disclose such content are often not as anonymous as they believe they are. Where issues of access, concealment and evasion are very significant in relation to pornography online, the question of incitement remains key to discussions of both sexually explicit materials and violent online gaming. Does the consumption of such material incite real-world acts of violence, from sexual violence to mass shootings? Debates echo longstanding disputes over ‘media effects’ in relation to violent behaviour; and these disputes remain polarized because the same evidence can be read in very different ways. Debate around incitement is complicated by divergent affordances, as networks enable new scope to explore and validate diverse sexual desires and fantasies.
Does the increased circulation of child abuse imagery increase the production of such content? Increased circulation might reduce production. Does the increased availability increase the market for such material, and if so, does this increase the likelihood of consumers becoming direct abusers themselves? Even if watching child pornography does not ‘directly’ cause a person to become an abuser, does wider availability ‘normalize’ such action and so disinhibit action by persons already predisposed? Online networks challenge national legal regulations, but the affordances of digital networks have provoked international harmonization of laws. While ‘sexting’ and ‘livestreaming’ of explicit content represents a new form of abusive communications, it is easier to expose and regulate such interaction because it is digital. However, not all digital content is recorded by service providers. Most child sexual abuse occurs in localized and mainly familial contexts. Recent exposés of child sexual exploitation have started with online disclosures.
The scope for privacy has expanded exponentially via digital networks. Privacy and its invasion are a cat-and-mouse game. The scope for states to monitor individual communications is greater than ever before, as is the scale of big data collected by companies. Yet, awareness of attempts to monitor citizens and manipulate consumers is also increased by means of digital networks. Such networks inform as well as inform upon us. In what ways are WikiLeaks and Anonymous similar? In what ways are the two different? Can social scientists judge whether leaks and hacktivism are ‘justified’, or is such judgement only ever a by-product of whose side you are on? Can social scientists be neutral or is it in the nature of social reality that facts are morally loaded? Do the cases of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden show the scope or the fragility of power in today’s digital surveillance state?
The internet has created the potential for ‘everyone’ to publish their own news and other content, and for ‘everyone’ to access it. On the one hand, citizen journalism has undone censorship, while, on the other hand, it has led to fears of a loss of standards. To what extent is cyber culture creating deeper social silos and more fake news than existed before? It is not the case that people today are narrower in their choice of news. The state or advertisers largely dictate radio and television’s ideological content. Today, algorithms play a role in reproducing such an editorial nexus. If society is more divided today, new media reflects this division, even if it may afford exaggerations of such divisions. While media may reinforce either cohesion or division, such as may exist outside it, the idea that ‘new’ media intrinsically polarizes where old media unified is false.
Micro-fraud has increased vastly online. There has been a huge escalation of online fraud. In addition, more traditional forms of large-scale fraud are also made easier through digital channels to digitally held accounts. Overall levels of fraud are on the increase because overall levels of financial transaction have increased, and overall levels of online fraud reflect this. Scope to steal a person’s identity increases online precisely because online forms of identification are more ‘alienable’. The separation of identify and identification is intensified in online domains, even if the distinction between personality and persona has longer roots. While ‘identity theft’ is significantly escalated online, capacity to appropriate someone else’s identity has its limits. Encryption is never absolute, but in transactions where both parties have an interest in maintaining confidentiality, digital keys are more secure than physical ones. Where sharing keys with non-trusted others takes place, digital encryption falls apart.
Intellectual property (IP) became more significant in recent years, as has its challenge. Does it make any sense to legislate against copying machines rather than their users? The very notion of intellectual property is built upon the idea that creativity resides in objects rather than in action. However, online sharing undermines property rights, increasing rewards to creative actors when people stop paying for recordings and consequently pay more for live events. Downloading films and, in particular, the free livestreaming of sporting events are said to undermine commercial sponsorship of visual culture. Yet, the most directly digital of all content producers, the software industries, have adapted best. Adaptation to the digital affordances of access, evasion (by distributed networking), concealment or transparency (encryption/revelation) and incitement (by free global promotion/publicity) is key.