At least once a day, I receive an email from someone in Burkina Faso who I do not know but who addresses me as “dearest” and wants to deposit $40 million into my bank account in exchange for me handing over my account number, social security number and mother’s maiden name, along with a measly $10,000 of honest money to pay for transfer fees.
Then there are the offers to increase the size of my male anatomy or ship me humongous quantities of Viagra or Cialis from Canada, no questions asked, and the letters from my long lost friends who seem to have been mugged in Barcelona and need me to send them cash immediately.
And that’s not even venturing into the murky world of the Deep Web, where, supposedly, you can hire hitmen, purchase false identities and view snuff films while you trawl an endless array of child pornography and Islamic State promotion sites, (not an enticing prospect; I think I’ll stick to the Google-approved www, thank-you-very-much).
Way back in antediluvian times when the World Wide Web first came into being (1989, for you post-Millennials and Generation Zers), the idea was that the Internet would be an open forum for the international exchange of knowledge and ideas in order to promote universal education and social equality.
Noble ideals, indeed.
So how did we get to the state where, according to the Pew Research Center, we all spend, on average, about 45 minutes to an hour a day dealing with spam and other unsolicited emails and web propaganda?
How did the WWW become the Wild, Wild West where advertisers and scammers feel justified to cram our inboxes at all hours with hundreds of emails offering everything from a free weekend in Monaco (for a small fee) to a cure for cancer (for a not-so-small fee) to blatant sexual solicitation?
The Internet has become the medium of choice for teenage bullying and malicious revenge photographs, and is a carte blanche passageway for criminals and perverts seeking to hook up with an underage youth or steal your identity.
Plainly, there is a need to better monitor and regulate Internet use to try to tackle online abuse, but then, of course, you risk sliding into that slippery slope of potential censorship and the squelching of free speech, not to mention the issues of international enforcement limitations.
The only plausible alternative is a serious injection of simple civility into Internet use, an Emily Post book of online etiquette, if you will.
For starters, anyone who wants to make a statement on the web should be expected to give their name – their real name – so that whatever they write, they own. (I kind of think my “dearest” friend in Burkina Faso is not using her real name.)
The implied anonymous nature of the Internet should not be a blank check for name-calling, humiliating slander, rude behavior or the unbridled usage of profanity.
Unless your name is Donald Trump, you likely would not resort to those tactics if dealing with a person or persons face-to-face, so there is no reason why you should feel justified to lower your conduct when online.
And, finally, don’t assault other people’s email accounts with endless junk mailings at all hours of the day or night.
If you want to sell a product or service, put up a webpage and let the customer or potential customer come to you.
Yeah, I know, none of the above suggestions is likely to get much traction.
But it is food for thought, and it would be nice if the Internet went back to its original purpose as a forum for academic and intellectual exchange.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected].