There is a problem with the world. The geopolitical environment that we all live in is being superseded by the digital world. And unlike the real world, the world of zeroes and ones has no boundaries and very little protection.
In our real world we are governed by rules and regulations, controlled by culture and morals, managed by social expectations and limited by the law of the land. We’re identified as the person we really are (birth certificate, photo ID and all), and it is very hard to hide behind a false persona or façade in real life.
In the digital world there is no such control. We can be as anti-social and politically incorrect as we like without fear of repercussions and stigma. We can hide behind avatars that resemble little of who we are in the real world. To this end, there is very little that you cannot do or be. For most people it is only our personal integrity that keeps us in check. In the criminal world, there is nothing.
Most of us don’t try to trash a rival’s reputation, trick strangers with fake dating profiles, spy on people, or steal information we can use to discredit them. What about those people who have no integrity, those people who have no understanding of right and wrong? These are the people who hide behind the anonymity of the digital world. This can have a severe detrimental impact on our real lives.
We, being normal people, allow this to happen. We interact with people that we do not know, just because they have a pretty picture on their LinkedIn or Facebook page or they have been recommended by someone we thought we knew from school or university
A recent experiment that was conducted by Colombia University showed that a pretty picture (female had a 90% better chance of being accepted) and a properly designed profile are all a criminal needs to get into your social network. Once in, they can destroy it from the inside out. The original experiment was performed on a local airline.
Experimenters used fake profiles, posing as fellow employees, to determine how far they could go in gaining the real employees’ trust. The professor stopped the experiment after 9 months when it was discovered that the infiltrators asked to have a flight delayed and it was.
The digital world is like that. There is no real connection between life and your digital avatar. You can be, do and say whatever you want with total impunity. It has been designed to be fun and give you your privacy, but this also makes it the most dangerous place to be.
When meeting someone, how do you actually know who they are? In real life, you might know because a friend introduced you, or they know your family or attend the same school. If you work with them, the HR department even has their identification on file. Pretty strong proofs of identity, and the chance that they’re pulling a Talented Mr. Ripley-style scam is low.
What about online? If you don’t share real-world friends who can vouch for them, you’re left trusting their honesty (or Facebook’s highly rigorous vetting process—that’s sarcasm, by the way). So before you give them any trust, ask yourself what this new friend might have to gain from you. When in doubt, don’t give out your address, financial data, work-related information, or anything else you wouldn’t share with a stranger you met on the street. Because in the digital world, no matter how pretty their profile photo, is that what they are?