Almost all of us have social media handles, and that too on different sites which serve some distinct functions. We have Facebook for our family, Instagram for our friends, Snapchat for our affairs and LinkedIn for our professional lives. All of these handles allow us to be several distinct versions of ourselves, and to balance multiple facets of our lives. But why is it that we’re different in real life, and on each individual handle that we have?
Well, cyberspace is an interesting place. It allows us to be whomever we want to be, do whatever we want to, and talk to whoever we want to, without having any sense of appropriate behaviour. And all these features feel liberating; it is this sense of liberation that makes people express their deepest desires and secrets, and allow them to be who they really are.
Over these years, as the cyberspace has gotten bigger and bigger, it has simultaneously gotten more complex. It’s not just restricted to dog-cat videos, but a haven for cybercriminals, government agencies and private contractors that are deeply entrenched in the Dark Web.
But I’m not here to talk about the Dark Web, regardless of how interesting it sounds. I’m here to tell you all the basic reason: Why the Dark Web? Why are people weird online?
Well, certain factors play a major role in defining behaviour online. There’s something called the Online Disinhibition Effect, because of which individuals are bolder, less inhibited, and judgement-impaired. And in this less inhibited state, people make friends faster, rather almost instantly. And all this leads towards another thing called online syndication, which is just a fancy term for sites having information from other third-party websites.
Now comes the interesting stuff. There’s something called a Triple-A Engine, that allows people to experience liberation in cyberspace. The Triple-A Engine stands for Accessibility, Affordability and Anonymity, and these are the prominent reason why people indulge in abnormal sexual preferences, termed fetishes, online. These 3 factors are the major reason why anything weird happens on the Internet.
And the funny thing is, we all know what we’re supposed to do or not. But if you tell a child, “Look up there: that’s a scary house, don’t go there.” What will be your first basic instinct? It will be to run up towards that scary house, regardless if they knew about what happened to Hansel and Gretel.
And during our visits into cyberspace, there’s another reason why people, namely teenagers, try out various kinds of stuff, whether right or wrong, is something called self-concept. It describes how people see, evaluate or perceive themselves, which increases exponentially with every A factor. And since cyberspace is a distinct domain, there’s also another identity: The cyber self. This is the idealised self, the person one wishes to be, and this gets amplified online.
The other genre of population that I want to talk about are hackers, since 1 out of every 4 teenagers on the internet is trying to be, or already is one (Source: The Cyber Effect by Dr Mairy Aiken). More so, why are they the way they are? And since now everything happens online, it’s only correct to talk about why they are there, and their role in shaping the current cyberspace ecosystem.
Well, the common definition of a hacker is someone who gets inside of your system without your knowledge, with a motive to do no harm, or a substantial amount. According to technology writer Debra Littlejohn Shinder, typical criminal hackers share these basic characteristic traits:
They have a tolerance for risk.
Possess a “control freak” nature, and enjoy manipulating people less smart than them.
Have an advanced technical skill set (of varying degrees)
Have a certain disregard for the law, or rationalisations for why certain laws are invalid.
The explanation of hacking, as per Dr Mairy Aiken, one of the most prominent cyber-psychologists in the world is on two bases: Human Psychology and Behaviourism. The former talks about hacking as an emotion similar to love or hate, but according to the latter, it’s all about rewards and profit. But her favourite explanation is Freudian in nature, belonging to more of a psychoanalytic school of thought.
What does she mean by psychoanalytic? Well, it explains hacking as a “psychosexual urge to penetrate.”
I know, gross. But she isn’t wrong. People derive a rush, or a thrill from doing adrenaline inducing activities, or anything that motivates them to get out of their beds every morning. Hackers derive their thrills from getting inside firewalls, exposing gaps in the system and pride themselves by being able to crack the most mind-boggling encryptions. But not every hacker wants your credit card details; some try to save them.
There are different categories of hackers. WhiteHats are those who are ethical hackers, they perform penetration checks against the systems of companies to test their strength. GreyHats just do almost the same, but without your permission. And the BlackHats? Well, they want those credit card details.
Well, what differentiates between White and Black hats? It’s the same distinction between policemen and criminals. Their sense of control takes to different roads in life, which finally manifests in them choosing their abilities to do harm, or to prevent it.
After all of this, you might be wondering, “What’s the point of this article?’’ Well, the point is that I wanted you to realise how we have evolved from talking at the communal fire to be able to talk across continents on your devices, and how human interaction is determined on the platforms on which we talk. And in this vast world where not everything is what it seems like, you should be capable enough to navigate your way through it, and hopefully for the good (don’t be Hansel and Gretel).
Cyberspace is evolving at an exponential rate, and it will keep determining how we present ourselves on different platforms every step of the way. We need to be aware of how our actions have consequences, and how we need to stay aware of how we present ourselves, because if we stray even for a second, remember those credit card details? You don’t now, since you got hacked.