THE invention of electronic mail has brought great benefits to mankind, as it ensures instantaneous communication through the Internet, at the touch of a button. We can stay connected with the rest of the world at all times.But with the convenience of instant communication, we have to put up with the pain of receiving an enormous amount of unwanted messages from the rest of the cyber-universe. One of the things that irks me most, in this new age of the electronic media, is the ugly phenomenon of the tons of junk emails that assault our electronic mail boxes every day.
These emails all promise millions in income from anonymous sources. All I have to do is supply them with my banking details and presto – astronomical sums of money will be deposited into my account, without my having to work for it. Naturally there is a catch to the promise of wealth: we have to put up a sum of money first, and deposit it into the sender’s anonymous account.
I am sure you receive this kind of email daily, as I do. There are never major variations and a sample of this con email will read like this:
“Dear Friend, I am a (Banker) Assistant Directeur General Adjunct at the Foreign Remittance Department in BANQUE COMMERCIALE DU BURKINA (BCB), Ouagadougou-Burkina Faso. During my secretarial/auditing services in the bank, I discovered a deceased (Lateman) dormant account figure sum of SEVEN MILLION, TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND UNITED STATES DOLLARS (US$7,200,000). Millions only belonging to a late foreigner who died since the year 2000 ago. Upon the receipt of this finding/discovering, I found out that the account owner (late Mr Kurt Kahle) died among those involved in the 2000 plane crash event as the website record reads as follow: (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/859479.stm).”
I know of a gullible person from Sarawak who was almost attracted by this promise of instant and undeserved wealth. He was positively livid with rage when I suggested to him this was part of a con game. I can only imagine the large number of people throughout the world who are so ignorant as to succumb to this, the simplest con game in the world.
The anonymity afforded by email must be irresistible for Internet users to attempt fraud. The other type of fraudulent email may even be sent to you in the name of somebody you know quite well. The message tells of sudden misfortune from a friend who requires immediate remittance of funds, usually in the region of a few thousand US dollars or euros. This type of email, usually tells of a traveller in distress in some foreign country, such as Spain, and our traveller has the misfortune of having had his passport, wallet, money and all his identification documents stolen.
This is not sent by a friend. This bogus email must have been sent by somebody who has been able to trace my email address. The best way to treat these imposters is to ignore them. A counter check with the real friend will immediately expose the vacuous plea for help by this so-called friend.
Another form of Internet abuse is the use of the cyber media to propagate negative messages of hate and distrust. In Malaysia’s highly charged political atmosphere, the Internet offers a quick conduit for the spread of negative news and hate mail, without proof. This type of hate email is usually ethnic or religious in nature.
The rule of ethics in journalism is largely ignored on the Internet. Frankly, I think there is way too much freedom in the cyber-sphere and there is too much confusion as to the authenticity of the sea of information that goes through the Internet.
Generally, Internet users just do not bother to practise the journalistic technique of double checking the source and facts. When used unmonitored and unchecked, the Internet resembles a garbage dump.
When using the Internet, I have a few rules of thumb. I will not open an email from any person I do not know at all. In fact, opening that unknown email may allow a vicious virus to infect my machine. I delete in bulk daily senders and useless emails without the slightest hesitation.
The wonderful thing about email is the freedom of expression. You can say anything you like without anybody being able to censor your speech. But like in other spheres of human activities, this freedom tends to be abused by humankind, ending up with the anarchy that we now have on the Internet.
That we humans are not worthy of our freedom of thought and speech is a long known fact. The great philosopher, Plato, has taught us this in his dialogue, the Republic, through the tale of the Ring of Gyges.
In that myth, Plato observed that whenever the wrongdoer of an unkind act is not liable to be caught because of his invisibility, he is more likely to use his magical power to commit crime. Frankly put, when people know that they are not going to be brought to justice, they are more likely to bring harm to their neighbours. The anonymity given by the Internet is a reason why its abuse is rampant.
The widespread abuse of freedom on the Internet is a reason why we should forever be watchful, when surfing the net. As one great man used to say, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The next time you go on the Internet do be careful, and exercise due caution.
(The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All comments are welcomed.)