Apparently Luka Rocco Magnotta made videos of himself killing cats and eating parts of his murdered victim, making the videos available online. In 2008 Tomohiro Kato announced on an internet bulletin board his intentions to kill people at random at noon in Tokyo’s Akihabara. He did just that in a spate of stabbings, lasting less than 20 minutes, that left 7 dead and at least 10 severely injured, before he was arrested. The horror of these murders, as usual, gives criminologists, forensic psychologists and other commentators the opportunity to explore in public the causes of such violence. But what is going somewhat unremarked is the way these men are broadcasting their intentions.
Letters to the newspapers from killers and other criminals are as old as newspapers, but there is something about the immediacy and anonymity of the internet and its ability to grab attention from a great mass of people who may not have a voice that will be listened to by authority that encourages its villainous use. The ignorance that leads some people to believe that their Facebook or other social network context is just a private domain was also illustrated by the call to riot as part of last year’s riots.
This all reflects the downside of the democratisation of open communication that the internet provides. Without gatekeepers, or limits imposed by a need for technical sophistication, people with no awareness of the art of publication or any experience of the impact of their comments on a wide audience are able to use the internet unthinkingly. After the Kato killings there were a spate of copycat killings in Japan as well as dozens of announcements on the web of criminal intentions, not all of which were hoaxes.
It seems to me that this is the very nasty end of a continuum that has its roots in the freely available abuse and scatological comment that seems to infiltrate so many internet interactions. People think nothing of insulting each other openly on twitter and in other social media. They will upload comments that are as inflammatory as they are ignorant. I was therefore pleased to discover that in Japan, partly as a result of Kato’s actions, there is now a primer for school children in internet etiquette. Put together by Hiroko Kanoh at Yamagata University, where she teaches internet ethics, this is a friendly self-study book with cartoons to explain what is acceptable and not acceptable in the use of the internet. It comments on the impact of hoax postings, bullying and threatening as well as the physical dangers of being always on a mobile phone. It seems to me that if this sort of guidance is not already happening in our schools it certainly should.