CURMUDGEONISM # 643 – ON THE HIJACKING OF SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS

Am I answerable for what was said in Curmudgeonism # 618 (below) when it’s entirely possible I didn’t write it?

The technology is now such that anyone with a little savvy can hijack your blog or social media account and have you saying things that would rightly have you crucified, drawn and quartered, beheaded, and then disinvited to dinner. He or she – though it’s usually a he – can even post a video of you mouthing these words. And then the onus falls on you to prove that it wasn’t you, though by then the damage is already done. You couldn’t even confirm or deny it really was you because that communication could be hijacked too. This is going to happen more and more, to the point that texting or blogging or Facebooking will cease to be a reliable way to communicate.

So my question is, what would be the argument against putting the kibosh on this behavior by a) criminalizing it, b) hunting down a few high-profile miscreants, and then c) imposing a penalty severe enough to wipe it out?

Most murders are crimes of passion, most theft of self-preservation or aggrandizement. But this is nothing but gratuitous vandalism. It’s not spontaneous. It involves meticulous execution. In short, it’s maliciousness pure and simple. But it’s undermining a public good as powerfully life-enhancing as was the invention of the printing press.

The problem is that tort law doesn’t do the problem justice. In the first place, the police won’t investigate a private action, so it’s on your dime. And in the second, even if the miscreant can be identified, tort requires proof of loss. But the loss I’m talking about here is one suffered not by the hackee but by all of us. It’s the sabotage of a public facility.

Online scammers are different. What makes it difficult to identify, prosecute, and punish online scammers is that they’re protected by jurisdictional barriers. The Nigerian prince with the $20,000,000 he wants to send you is the sister-in-law of the beat cop in Bucharest. But there are no financial interests to be protected in the kind of thing I’m talking about here, and in very few cases any cross-border involvement. This is just Melissa trying to make trouble for her high school rival Tiffany.

If so, does that mere mischief really warrant a ten-year sentence? Yes. Not for the damage done to Tiffany, but for the damage done to the rest of us.

But there’s a second-order problem involved here. Because of the speed at which online technology is moving, any attempt to constrain the uses of that technology is widely regarded as both futile and neo-Luddite. So on the first count we don’t ask ourselves whether we can, and so we just assume that we can’t. And on the second we’re two enamored to want to.

Sometimes I feel like Laocoon being devoured by the serpents.

 

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