It is not the first time, and I would venture to guess it will not be the last, but I spoke too soon. A couple days ago I posted a story on Craigslist, and how it can help those looking find a mate, for a night or for a lifetime. Well, over the past few days we have all come to see the darker side of this use of technology too (and I am not talking about finding someone looking much differently than you anticipated).
The story of Philip Markoff, who allegedly lured young women to hotels via their ads for massage services on Craigslist, has hit national headlines and reminds us all that as great as the Internet and services like Craigslist may be, we don't really know who we are talking to. The shocking thing about this story is that if the women Mr. Markoff supposedly attacked had known who he was, they probably wouldn't have flinched. A handsome, affluent medical student looking for a "massage." Hell, I know plenty of men that probably would have taken that job too.
A story like this one just makes me a bit hesitant to totally sing the praises of services like Craigslist, although I have to believe that this is a case of one bad apple ruining the bunch. But still, would this have happened with the technology of the past?
It seems that the immediacy of Craigslist changes things since you can hook up with the person you are seeking (or stalking) so quickly that it allows people to find immediate gratification. If whoever did this had to answer an ad in the classified section of a print publication, would it have happened, or would the urge have passed? If whoever did this had to go out and find his prey, would the victim have sensed something beforehand and not gone, as opposed to finding out in the hotel room when it was too late and the gun is already pointed at him/her? Who knows? It is just unfortunate because for all of the utility Craigslist and similar services provide us, stories like this really make a bad impression.
But there is a bright side to this story. Granted, there is the possibility that the crime may not have happened, may not have happened repeatedly or may have been more difficult to follow through with without Craigslist and the Internet. However, given that it did happen, the technology was the red herring that led to the arrest of the suspect. Police had descriptions of the perpetrator, along with other details that could help find him, but it was not until they traced the IP address for the e-mail that solicited the massage services to Mr. Markoff's apartment that they were able to connect him with the crime well enough to follow through with an indictment. And aside from crimes that have a direct connection to the Internet, this technology has given law enforcement a whole new range of tools to help track down people who are up to no good.
So in conclusion, I am still sticking with my "Craiglist-is-Good" evaluation from the last post. Just like our mother told us not to talk to strangers, and our instincts tell us when someone is bad news, we have to remember to listen to that little voice inside when it tells us that it is risky to go out and meet someone we barely know, particularly if one is to be alone with said person. Like much of the issues surrounding technology, good old fashioned sensibility and responsibility still prevail.