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Venture into Uncharted Territory

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The following is what is suspected to be the internet's very first Creepypasta. It was found by known Creepypasta critic "Mutahar" of Youtube channel SomeOrdinaryGamers using the Wayback Machine. The story was shown on the "Rants and Slants" category on www.aol.com at what is supposed to be December 13th, 1996, made by AOL user MMakris663.


A woman had been murdered, so I wasn't surprised when my telephone rang: A radio talk show producer was calling to ask me to appear as a guest on a program about "the dark side of the Internet."

The murder victim had met her killer in cyberspace--a fact that was being played up in national headlines--so it was predictable, if not reflexive that talk show producers would rush to feature programs about the evil Internet.

I am a frequent guest on talk shows anyway, but nobody has ever called to ask me to discuss "the bright side of the Internet."Would I come on this show, asked the producer, to discuss "all the terrible things happening on the Internet?" Gosh. How could I resist an invitation like that?

Besides, one of the other guests on the program was a national newspaper columnist--one of the few with a real understanding of the Internet and online communications. So I expected to have a lively discussion I hoped would produce more light than heat, which isn't normally the case on talk shows. But the columnist surprised me with his opening statement:

"Communicating with a computer makes it much easier to encounter unpleasant people than in the physical world." Not only that, he went on, but all these nasty people were essentially anonymous, which rendered the Internet even more dangerous. Just look at that poor woman who was murdered by a man she met in a chat area.

I waited patiently for a chance to respond, then couldn't resist quoting George Bernard Shaw's response to a critic.

"Sir," I said, "that is a tissue of crazy nonsense." And it is.

Anyone who thinks you can encounter more unpleasantness online than in what we laughingly call The Real World obviously doesn't know how to use their computer. Or they live on some island paradise where everyone is mellow. I don't know about you, but when I get annoying e-mail or junk e-mail I delete it instantly. Poof! Like that. And though I spend virtually no time in chat rooms, I can't imagine sitting still for live, online abuse any longer than it takes me to click my mouse and leave.

In cyberspace, we have almost complete control over whatever information flows our way. We can delete material, instantly change virtual locations, choose not to communicate with specific people, use bozo filters to discard unwanted mail before it even reaches our mail boxes, or simply hit the computer's off switch and tune out completely. Try doing *that* in the physical world.

The point I tried to stress on the talk show is painfully obvious to anyone who spends time online. Computer communication is almost entirely volitional. Virtually nothing comes to you that is unbidden or beyond your control to manipulate.

"But what about that woman who was murdered by the guy she met in a chat room," asked the show's host. Well, from all accounts, this was a most bizarre case. The victim was apparently warned by her alleged killer that he was going to do all manner of evil things to her, culminating in death.

Thusly warned, the woman left a goodbye note for her husband, says the police report, and took off to rendezvous with her deadly lover. Now folks, gather around ye olde computer and ask yourselves some questions: Did the Internet kill this woman?

Did computer communication make it easier for her to meet her murderer? Was there any way her death could have been prevented? The answers, I think, are no, probably not and maybe. In other words, this tragic tale has less to do with the Internet and more to do with psychopathology and evil, both of which existed long before the first computer chip flashed to life.

Another case now making headlines involves a man who met women in chat areas, arranged to meet them offline, and then invited them to his apartment where he sexually abused and tortured them. Like the "Internet murder case," this too is being used as an example of the dangers of cyberspace.

Alas, reporters and editors have conveniently short memories. Doesn't anyone remember the novel and movie "Looking for Mr. Goodbar"? In that story, based on true events, a lonely single woman meets her death at the hands of a psycho she meets in a bar. So how come nobody is doing talk shows about "the dark side of bars?" Too obvious, I guess.

The last bit of nonsense is the idea that the online world confers true anonymity. Wrong. Use America Online, for example, and though you can concoct a wacky screen name, you are still not really anonymous. Not to us. Members sign a contract and use a credit card.

Their real names are on file. That is one of the benefits of AOL membership. Like any private club, members agree to a code of behavior and sign a contract stating that they will follow the rules or forfeit their privileges. So if somebody hassles you on AOL, report the incident (keyword: TOS) and our security folks will quickly address the problem.

You will have no such protection on the Big Bad Internet, but even there, anonymity isn't a sure bet. Yes, a person can run his or her name through an anonymous remailer, but even this leaves a digital trail, one the police can easily follow. And without an anonymous remailer, an e-mail always indicates the server--as in the address somebody@server.com. You may not know who "somebody" is, but the Internet provider at server.com surely will. Again, because the user had to sign a contract and pay with a credit card.

Do you want true anonymous communication? It's easy. And it's guaranteed by the United States government. Use the U.S. mail system. The Unabomber did, getting away with mail bombing people and places for 17 years with complete immunity from detection. Not even the Internet, for all its supposed darkness, can compete with that.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that bad things can't happen to good people using online communications. But that's the point: communication systems of all types carry *human* messages, so whatever humans talk or think about, plot, scheme or worry about is sure to be communicated, whether it is good, bad, or indifferent. Blaming the Internet is obviously like killing the messenger for delivering unhappy news.

And listen, if you really want to worry about a dangerous electronic device in your home, one that is a clear threat to your children, your physical well-being and your sanity, then be on guard. There is a high-tech implement lurking in your house or apartment that can expose you and your loved ones to obscenity, extortion, stalking, death threats, scam artists, religious nuts, drunks, quacks, perverts, charlatans, abusive bill collectors, and--scariest of all--relatives and in-laws.

So any day now I expect to do a radio talk show about "the dark side of the telephone."

Life is hell, and then your phone rings...

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