social media and online cruelty

Jeff Roberts, writing on GigaOm about a recent online cruelty case:

How many restless women wouldn’t fall for an animal-loving firefighter who sent gifts and liked to talk on the phone? One Illinois woman fell hard and now she has nothing but a hole in her heart and wallet after a court refused to do anything about a sick online prank.

Paula Bonhomme met James on a site for fans of the HBO series Deadwood. She soon realized the EMT and volunteer firefighter was “the one” after an intense flurry of messages, calls and gifts. Paula started communicating with James’ friends and family in California and soon a visit was in the works.

You can guess where this is going. As it turns out, there was no James but instead a twisted 58-year old woman, Janna St. James, who had fabricated James and more than a dozen other online identities to support the fictional romance. The phone calls? Janna had used a voice disguiser to sound like a man. The planned trips to California? Called off after “James” first attempted suicide and then suddenly died of liver cancer…

With the laws around cyberbullying still moving slowly, it’s possible to work these complex deceptions, and still see no significant consequences. This should be a serious encouragement to be careful with what you disclose online, and how you interact with people when you’re not certain who they are.

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