Wednesday, April 16, 2008

We're gonna need a bigger boat

The internet is like a vast ocean of information. You can be sure that in this ocean too, there are sharks.

Sharks in the ocean of the internet don’t often show their fins until it is too late. They can snatch you and take you under to a world of misery before you realize it. I cannot state explicitly enough how dangerous the internet can be.

While it is a great place to learn about other cultures, develop friendships, and learn new information, just like the real world, there are also going to be predators that hide under the beauty and mystery of this ocean in order to get to their victims. For pedophiles, abusers, and users the internet has become the ultimate hunting grounds.

How the Predator Gets the Puzzle Pieces to You

Everything you say and do online could potentially be used against you. The way you interact with others will often reveal things about you that you don’t realize and often this happens due to the efforts of the predator and how he engages you. Manipulation tactics are used to create an atmosphere of trust and to open dialog. In Gavin DeBecker's book, The Gift of Fear, he tells of certain tactics that predators in the real world use to get their prey.

Many of the same tactics that work in the real world also work online. What follows are some tactics based off of DeBecker's observations, but in the context of the internet. Many of these tactics may appear to overlap in purpose and meaning, however this is exactly the objective, that the tactics should blend as seamlessly as possible into a ‘trojan horse’ persona.

Sympathetic Charm: Appearing sympathetic, open minded and eager to learn combined with remarks that charm or stroke your ego may increase the amount of information you tell. Projecting a sense of empathy often makes the predator’s target feel more at ease to speak with those he / she perceives as being open or like minded. People like to have someone to listen to them. A good listener makes a good counselor. It also makes a good predator.

Ego Stroking: In conjunction with sympathetic charm, the predator may take opportunities to stroke your ego. Remarks, when properly employed, concerning fascination with what you know or how smart you are, what you believe in, and / or overall personality may prompt you to continue talking and in turn continue information sharing. The more superior you feel to another the more vulnerable you become to tactics of manipulation.

Self Degradation: Comments regarding himself as being inferior to you could make you feel the need to encourage him (save him) or maybe even let your ego show what you know and in the process reveal more personal information. This is related to ego stroking in that it creates opportunity for the subject to revel in his ‘superiority’ and knowledge base. If the subject perceives the hunter as an equal he may perceive him as a threat. If the subject doesn’t perceive the hunter as an equal he will likely perceive him as subjugate to him, thereby creating the potential for a “master to student” mentoring situation. Pride comes before the fall.

Shared Circumstances: Creating a sense of kinship in perceived struggles, similar historical backgrounds, or current affairs. Related to ‘Forced Teaming” (The Gift of Fear, DeBecker 1997), this tactic involves creating a sense of unity by using such terms as “we”, “you and I”, “us” when conversing. It is creating a false sense of partnership where none truly exists.

Volunteering Information: The predator may freely give information (albeit false) to his target that appears to be personal in nature. Information can detail everything from personal history to geographical location. This tactic is more convincing when this volunteering of information appears to be unintentional. The purpose of volunteering information is to demonstrate a sense of trust and to ‘obligate’ the subject to share similar information. He may tell you, without you asking, where he lives, hangs out, what his phone number is, or simply give you his full name. He will do this, so that you will return or “volunteer” your personal information. The difference being, his is likely made up, and yours will be real. If he wants to stalk you then he will have some important information to use against you if you aren’t careful.

Ego Challenge: When done correctly the predator may make a slight challenge to your ego so that you will feel the need to prove him wrong. He might say things like, “I bet you’re too pretty to talk to me.”

In Need of Salvation: When the predator presents himself as one who is emotionally, physically, or financially in ruin this may cause you, his intended mark to see this as an opportunity to come in and rescue him.

Misdirection: Keeping your focus off the predator’s intent is crucial in maintaining the sense of trust. Misdirection may involve creating drama where there is none, accentuating focus on contrived fears, anger, or beliefs, creating false concern and general spin of relevant information. If he is good, he may be careful not to appear too eager to pry into your life; he must in essence create opportunities to encourage you to come after him. Our sense of worth is often defined by our perceptions of how others perceive us. Ideally, he wants you to become dependent on feedback from him in order to feed into your sense of worth. If he is good he will make efforts where you are made to feel you are the one in control.

Don't get bitten.

Suggested reading: The Gift of Fear, by Gavin DeBecker (1997)