The Internet after the craigslist killing

The tragedy serves as a sad reminder to exercise caution while on the Internet.

The recent murder of Katherine Ann Olson, who responded to a listing on craigslist, has shocked the entire nation. A University student, Olson was merely following up on a job posting for a nanny when her life was taken by a complete stranger.

While it is impossible to make sense of this atrocious crime, it does serve as a tragic reminder of the potential dangers of the Internet. Technology today enables a high degree of anonymity, and some will use this to harm others. It is a slow process to adjust to these new dangers, and educating people can take a long time. The online stalkers and pedophiles have been brought to the public’s awareness, and there are even public service advertisements telling kids not to meet people they’ve met online without a parent present. But there are other threats which have not been as widely publicized.

The use of classified ads on craigslist to lure unsuspecting victims is relatively uncharted territory. With the advent of free classified services on the Internet, the world of trading and selling has become more accessible and has brought in younger users who would have never picked up a newspaper classified section. This introduces a new, vulnerable demographic that needs to be aware that anyone with Internet access can make postings on Web sites. It’s human nature to want to trust and believe other people, but that can be a dangerous policy when dealing across the Internet.

It would be unrealistic to expect Web sites to closely monitor all of its users in an attempt to screen for misconduct, so for now the focus should be on educating users about staying safe while interacting on the anonymous Internet. For example, meetings should ideally happen in public places or with other people present, don’t give out your address, and make sure that others know where you are going.

There is no way to make the Internet completely safe, so we must do our best to be mindful of how we interact with strangers, and increase awareness of being safe on the Internet.