I Know...Let's Blame the Internet!

One of the things that really ticks me off is that the Internet itself takes a lot of flak for the communication it enables. In no other medium does the public shoot the messenger when something bad happens as the result of facilitated communication. For instance...

  • When telemarketers call us at home during dinner, we blame marketers that use outbound call centers. We don't blame the telephone medium.
  • When Super Bowl halftime shows broadcast naked bodies into our homes, those who are offended blame Viacom, not the television medium as a whole.
  • When people are offended by shock jocks like Howard Stern and Bubba the Love Sponge, they blame the stations who are responsible for carrying the content and the corporate entities to which they belong, not radio in general.

But for some reason, when bad things happen as the result of communication over the Internet, the Internet itself gets blamed. Here's the latest: Internet Blamed in Spread of Syphilis Among Gays

It would be nice if the journalists who report on scientific studies would learn the difference between correlation and causality. The Internet doesn't make people have unprotected sex. The Internet doesn't make predators want to kidnap children. The Internet doesn't force people to sit around and look at porn all day. Yet, when these things happen, many journalists oversimplify things by implying a causal relationship rather than a correlative one.

The spread of syphilis is due to people having unprotected sex. If the Internet makes it easier for people who want to have unprotected sex to find one another, that's not the Internet's fault. In order to have sex, people have to meet up in the real world, at which point they have a choice as to whether or not to have unprotected sex. The Internet has nothing to do with that. Yet the medium takes the blame anyway.

Instead, members of our society should take some responsibility in using the medium. Parents of young children don't let their kids talk to strangers on the telephone, do they? People who ruin their marriages by looking for extramarital sex online have made their own beds - shouldn't they sleep in them? People who are offended by Howard Stern change the channel, don't they?

A while back, AdAge picked up a comment I made on one of the Internet advertising discussion lists about needing some sort of Internet Anti-Defamation League. If people, especially journalists, continue to blame the Internet for poor decision-making by the people who use it, I stand by my comment. We don't want people to see the Internet as threat, with insurmountable dangers inherent, do we?