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They just seem to keep falling into the same hole, don’t they? Another inaccurate “death threat” missive.

Posted by watchingcyfswatchnewzealand on February 26, 2007

As posted on CYFSWATCH New Zealand

February 25th, 2007 by cyfswatchnz

Herald Columnist Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan: Internet a playground  for hate, scammers and villains

5:00AM Monday February 26, 2007

In the past week, I have seen how the internet can bring out the worst in people.

Cyberspace has degenerated into a truly venomous and nasty place, and posting a death threat against a Member of Parliament on a blog is as low as it gets.

An anonymous author posted this on a local website: “[Sue] Bradford is a worthy candidate for NZ’s first political assassination. I only wish I had the resources to do it.”

It was truly galling for me, as I read the report fresh from speaking with immigrants who were victims of internet scams. As if that was not bad enough, the website’s author also threatened to release Bradford’s home address.

Google has rightfully shut down the website. But soon after, the author released a ridiculous statement saying Google’s action was a breathtaking display of socialist censorship.

My agreement with what Google had done did not sit easily with a New Zealand-born friend, who insisted Google’s action was indeed an infringement on freedom of speech and expression and it had no right to curtail what one could say online.

He took a swipe telling me because I came from Singapore, I had no concept of what free speech meant.

I stood my ground. Tell me where does it say that freedom of speech means people can go around making threats to kill a human being and worse, under a veil of anonymity?

Surely, in a true democracy (how my friend described New Zealand), people must still be held responsible and accountable for what they say and the threats they make.

The internet has given anyone with a computer the ability to have a say on anything. But we should still be guided by the same decency and decorum that we live by in the real world. The trouble is online postings can be made anonymously, so people they think they are answerable to no one. Internet laws are vague and policing is even more difficult.

So, the internet has become a playground for scammers, tricksters and villains alike. I spoke to two victims of internet rogues last week.

One was an immigrant from Malaysia who, after having lost US$180,000 ($255,000) in a Nigerian scam, continued to be hounded by the scammers demanding even more money.

He had since suffered an even bigger loss – that of his son to cancer – but do the heartless conmen care?

They continue to harass him, calling him every day for the past week – sometimes after midnight – and bombarding his inbox with emails.

He tried to seek help from the police, but was told that because the criminals were not in New Zealand, there was little that could be done.

The other was a work-to-residence immigrant from the Philippines, who thought the god of good fortunes must be with her when she received a highly-paid overseas job offer in response to a job wanted ad she had posted online.

But she realised it was a lie when the email requested her to post a large sum of money into a Nigerian bank account for immigration work.

Like most immigrants, the two told me they used the internet a lot more since moving here because it was the cheapest way to keep in touch with family and the outside world.

According to a survey last year, Asians are the highest users of the internet and consumers of communications technology here.

The Malaysian victim told me he only learned how to use email and the internet after he came to New Zealand. Despite their notoriety, he had not heard of Nigerian scams until it was too late.

Some Chinese and Korean immigrants say local internet discussion forums allow them to let off steam on issues of the day in their own ethnic scripts.

But I, for one, am wary of such sites. Check out some of these forums and you will find many choked in smut. Many exist for like-minded people to add fuel to a fire of insults and lies, and to poke fun fun at people, defaming them and assassinating their characters.

I have been rubbished and roasted on these sites and been called names too rude to be published in this column by people who disagreed with something I wrote.

When we ran a controversial story on student prostitutes last year, an anonymous email was sent to my iBall co-editor and me, threatening our families and asking us to quit journalism. Surely there must be a line drawn between debate and threats.

Now, instead of pushing for a bill likely to turn some good parents into criminals, perhaps Sue Bradford could consider tabling one for stronger laws against net crimes?

She could definitely count on my support.

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