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Part of the warning message LivingSocial sent to subscribers.

LivingSocial, the second-largest daily deal company behind Groupon, said it was hit by a cyber attack that may have affected more than 50 million customers.

The company said the attack on its computer systems resulted in unauthorised access to customer data, including names, email addresses, date of birth for some users and “encrypted” passwords.

LivingSocial stressed customer credit card and merchants’ financial and banking information were not affected or accessed. It also does not store passwords in plain text.

“We are actively working with law enforcement to investigate this issue,” the company, part-owned by Amazon.com, wrote in an email to employees.

LivingSocial does not disclose how many customers it has. However, spokesman Andrew Weinstein said “a substantial portion” of the company’s customer base was affected. LivingSocial is also contacting customers who closed accounts, because it still has their information stored in databases, he added.

The attack hit customers in the United States, Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Southern Europe and Latin America. Customers in South Korea, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand were not affected, Weinstein said.

“In light of recent successful widespread attacks against major social networking sites, it’s obvious that these providers are simply not doing enough to protect their customers’ information,” said George Tubin, senior security strategist at Trusteer, a computer security company.

The attack comes as LivingSocial struggles to handle a decline in consumer and merchant demand for daily deals. The company raised $US110 million from investors, including Amazon earlier this year, but was forced to make large concessions to get the new money.

Amazon invested $US56 million in LivingSocial in the first quarter, according to a regulatory filing on Friday, which also revealed the company had a first-quarter operating loss of $US44 million on revenue of $US135 million.

LivingSocial said on Friday it was beginning to contact more than 50 million customers whose data may have been affected by the cyber attack.

LivingSocial told customers in an email that they should log on to LivingSocial.com to create a new password for their accounts.

“We also encourage you, for your own personal data security, to consider changing password(s) on any other sites on which you use the same or similar password(s),” LivingSocial Chief Executive Tim O’Shaughnessy wrote in the email.

“We are sorry this incident occurred.”


Fantasy Lingerie
Henry Sapiecha

F-Commerce has not delivered expectations.

Last April, Gamestop opened a store on Facebook to generate sales among the 3.5 million-plus customers who’d declared themselves “fans” of the video game retailer. Six months later, the store was quietly shuttered.

Gamestop has company. Over the past year, Gap, JC Penney and Nordstrom have all opened and closed storefronts on Facebook’s social networking site.

Facebook, which this month filed for an initial public offering, has sought to be a top shopping destination for its 845 million members. The stores’ quick failure shows that the California-based social network doesn’t drive commerce and casts doubt on its value for retailers, said Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Closed: Gamestop shut its F-store.Closed: Gamestop no longer sells directly on Facebook.

“There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into a new destination, a store, a place where people would shop,” Mulpuru said in a telephone interview. “But it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”

A year ago, investors hailed so-called F-commerce as the next big thing, speculating that the company had potential to threaten Amazon.com and PayPal. Facebook is the most-visited website in the world. Some people thought that persuading visitors to shop would be easy, Mulpuru said.

David Fisch, Facebook’s director of business development, said in June that the site would make shopping online, previously a solitary experience, more social.

Hanging out

“This is where people are hanging out,” Fisch said at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in San Diego.

Facebook planned to profit from retailers buying ads to drive traffic to their on-site stores. Business consultant Booz & Co. predicted in January 2011 that physical goods sold through social commerce would balloon to $US30 billion from $US5 billion by 2015, with Facebook contributing a majority of sales.

Even as some businesses shut storefronts, many companies continue to devote advertising dollars to the social network. Facebook’s sales surged 55 per cent to $US1.13 billion in the fourth quarter. The company aims to use e-commerce more as a way of getting users to stay longer than as a way to boost revenue, said Krista Garcia, an analyst at EMarketer in New York.

Chris Kraeuter, a Facebook spokesman, declined to comment.

Customers had no incentive to shop at Gamestop’s Facebook store rather than the company’s regular website because purchasing online is already convenient, said Ashley Sheetz, who is the Grapevine, Texas-based company’s vice president of marketing and strategy.

Shut quickly

“We just didn’t get the return on investment we needed from the Facebook market, so we shut it down pretty quickly,” Sheetz said in a telephone interview. “For us, it’s been a way we communicate with customers on deals, not a place to sell.”

Gap, which has 5.6 million Facebook fans from its namesake, Banana Republic and Old Navy pages, opened and discontinued a storefront last year, said Liz Nunan, a company spokeswoman. The San Francisco-based company also discovered customers preferred shopping on its own sites, she said.

“We will continue to evaluate if this is something we want to bring back in the future,” Nunan said in an emailed statement.

Nordstrom tested ways to make shopping “seamless through Facebook” and decided on a broader social media focus, Colin Johnson, a spokesman, said.

JC Penney featured assortments in a Facebook “shop” tab beginning in 2010, and took it down in December 2011, Kate Coultas, a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

Other advertisers, such as Procter & Gamble, have kept their F-stores running, including Olay, Tide and Cover Girl.

An Australian online business, however, had a re-think about selling its goods through a Facebook store, after considering the costs.

Eugene Tan, director of Aquabumps, a business selling daily photographs of Bondi and other beaches, has a meaningful fan page on Facebook but declined the offer to create a new e-commerce engine or merge his current one on the social network.

“I had a look at some of the guys providing the service to create a shop and I thought (the site) was slow. A lot of apps that run on Facebook are slow. And I can’t control it. I’d rather people come to me (from Facebook).”

Tan said he also didn’t like to put a “hard sell” on his Facebook page. “We’re very subtle on the sell. My buyers would switch off.”

Tan stores about 1000 images on his site and offers 12 permutations in framing and sizing options.

“It’d be very difficult to have two stores, and expensive too. They (third party) wanted a monthly fee and a percentage of sales. With my own site I can control the costs – I paid a one-off fee to create it and pay the credit card transaction fees; that’s nothing,” Tan said.

Cracks in model

Wade Gerten, chief executive officer of social media developer 8thBridge, previously known as Alvenda, opened a Facebook store for the florist 1-800-FLOWERS. Minneapolis-based Gerten went on to develop commerce strategies for Delta Air Lines, Diane Von Furstenberg Studio and denim-maker Seven for all Mankind.

Cracks in the model showed quickly, Gerten said in a telephone interview. Clients “have taken a different approach,” shutting stores or scaling back their offerings.

“It was basically just another place to shop for all the stuff already available on the retailer websites,” Gerten said. “I give so-called F-commerce an ‘F’.”

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Private photos of facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg uploaded to his Facebook have leaked oot into the public internet following the discovery of yet another security flaw, one of the many that have plagued the social networking website since its inception in February 2004.

The flaw, which Facebook has acknowledged, appears to have first been posted about on a body building forum along with step-by-step instructions on how to obtain access to the private photos of any Facebook user.

The forum post has since been deleted and upon discovering the security flaw, Facebook said it “immediately disabled the system” used to obtain private photos and would only “return functionality” once it had confirmed a fix.

The flaw “allowed anyone to view a limited number of another user’s most recently uploaded photos irrespective of the privacy settings for these photos”, Facebook said in a statement, and was “the result of one of our recent code pushes”.

It was live for “a limited period of time”, it added.

One of the photos extracted from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s profile shows him holding a chicken upside down as if it were dead. Another shows him holding two plates, one with what looks to have battered chicken on it and the other, thinly-sliced potato chips.

If reports of Mr Zuckerberg only eating meat he has killed are anything to go by, it’s likely the chicken was slaughtered.

Other photos show him with “Beast”, his fluffy white dog, and girlfriend Priscilla Chan at their home.

There are also photos of Mr Zuckerberg with friends while eating and drinking, with US President Barack Obama and with children in costumes, likely taken during Halloween in the US.

Facebook has had a long history of access control vulnerabilities, especially around unauthorised access to photos, said Ty Miller, chief technology officer at the Australian security firm Pure Hacking.

In December 2009 a privacy overhaul of the social networking site saw almost 300 photos of Mr Zuckerberg and his friends as well as his calendar and wall posts made public to even non-friends. His access privileges were revised to “friends of friends” following reports of the photo treasure trove.

“Facebook users should expect variations of this type of security flaw to continue into the future,” Mr Miller said. “As a precaution Facebook users should ensure that they only upload content … that won’t negatively impact them if it is leaked.”

He added that the social networking giant should ensure that penetration tests were performed on all updates to the site to ensure that vulnerabilities like the recent one were detected prior to being released to the public.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


SCHOOLS are using internet monitoring companies to read what students are saying on social networking sites.

The typical service used by schools such as Ascham looks at any publicly available material posted on sites such as Facebook, Formspring and Tumblr to monitor the sometimes ferocious use of the media by young people.

”We go where the conversations are, where young people or communities of interest are coalescing online,” says James Griffin, a partner in SR7. The company’s service does not intercept private messages, although some technology using keyword searches is able to do this.

Mr Griffin said Formspring allowed anonymous postings on the wall of identified hosts, which could then be seen by their friends, making it a standout tool for cyber-bullying.

Ascham is one of several private schools monitoring what their students do online at home or, with smartphones, literally anywhere. Ascham girls are not allowed to use social networking sites at school.

The director of students for years 11 and 12, Frances Booth, said: ”We know it’s become pretty much the essential way of communicating for thie current generation of students and we understand it’s a huge part of their lives. But we’re also aware of the dangers that can come from unrestrained use.

”They’re aware we keep an eye on what they’re up to. All we want is for them to be safe.”

Other schools rely on students or parents to monitor postings. Stephen Harris, the principal of Northern Beaches Christian School, is ready to phone parents late at night if their children have posted something inappropriate, to make them take it down immediately. ”Our school policy now extends the concept

of the school playground to any environment in the social media platform where a student of the school or a teacher is identified by either name, image or inference,” he said.

Public schools are also stepping into what had previously been held to be either private or the domain of parents.

While social networking sites are not accessible from school computers, Lila Mularczyk, the deputy president of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, recently argued that cyber-bullying connected with school was treated in the same way, no matter when it occurred.

”If the out-of-hours harassment is an extension of school relationships or a school event, that is [considered] part of the school day,” she said.

Mrs Booth said: ”We monitor the girls’ usage of the internet both internally and externally, not because we want to stop them but because we want them to use it in a safe manner.

”We don’t want them putting things out there that might put them in danger.”

But Cameron Murphy, the president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said that the monitoring was an ”outrageous invasion” of students’ privacy.

”Just because students may discuss things about school over the phone at night, it wouldn’t be appropriate or lawful for a school to tap someone’s phone and make decisions about them on that basis. Just because it happens to be a social networking site, it shouldn’t be any different,” he said.

But Mr Griffin, of SR7, said schools must act out of a duty of care to their students.

”Social media and cyber-bullying is simply an issue of the modern day that schools have to acknowledge and understand they can do something about,” he said.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


A LANDSCAPE architect fired for overusing an email chat service has been found to have been unfairly dismissed. It is the latest case for Fair Work Australia that deals with internet and social media use in the workplace.

Richard O’Connor had been employed by Outdoor Creations, in Melbourne. He had resigned and was about to leave the job when he was abruptly sacked for more than ”3000 transactions on a chat line during work time”.

His employer claimed, after searching his computer, that he had been using the Google Mail chat service when he was supposed to be working.

Employer David Kirkpatrick said in a letter of termination that engaging in personal activities for such a period of time while at work was akin to the theft ”of hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of paid time”. Mr O’Connor denied using the chat service to the extent claimed.

The Fair Work Australia commissioner Anne Gooley said neither party had provided independent evidence about the net use. She said that while excessive use of social media during work hours may justify dismissal there was insufficient evidence to dismiss Mr O’Connor. He had also not been given an opportunity to respond before being sacked.

Facebook gay hate scandal:

ex-soldier charged

06 May, 2011 06:31 AM
Sydney police have charged a former Australian soldier over the creation of a Facebook gay hate page that targeted four members of the Defence Force.The arrest comes less than a month after Fairfax revealed the harassment, which targeted an army major, Paul Morgan, two members of the Sydney-based commando regiment 2RAR and another soldier.

It was also revealed that, despite the Facebook page clearly identifying several dozen serving soldiers, the Defence Force failed to properly investigate and punish serving members allegedly linked to a campaign designed to expose and intimidate homosexual personnel.

Major Morgan, an army psychologist, was also sent a graphic email, which police allege came from the soldier, which stated: ”I will cut your homosexual carcass into 100 pieces to feed you to the marine life in Botany Bay.”

The Facebook page, created by the pseudonym ”Steve Austin”, was created to expose what the author called ”bum bandits getting around the ADF”.

The four serving gay men had their names published on the Facebook page – which has since been taken down – as having made a ”filthy lifestyle decision”.

”This page has been created to inform current and past serving members of the ADF who is ‘biting the pillow’,” it said.

It allegedly had links to extremely violent and pornographic videos on YouTube showing homosexuals being executed superimposed over images of flag-draped coffins of dead Australian troops.

Police from Surry Hills in Sydney charged the 32-year-old with one count of using a carriage service to threaten in relation to the email.

He was also charged with using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence, relating to the Facebook page.

The arrest comes amid Canberra’s Australian Defence Force Academy Skype scandal, with two army cadets last week facing court over allegations that one of them had sex with a fellow cadet and broadcast the encounter over Skype to the other cadet. That incident sparked public condemnation of the way the Defence Force handled the fallout ADFA commandant Bruce Kafer was forced to take leave by the Chief of Army, Ken Gillespie, last month and a suite of reviews and inquiries into Defence culture followed.

Preteen girls charged

over Facebook sex prank

April 28, 2011 – 6:42AM

Two preteen US girls accused of hacking into a classmate’s Facebook page and posting sexually explicit photos and messages have been charged with cyberstalking and first-degree computer trespassing.

The girls, ages 11 and 12, have been under investigation since the alleged victim’s family contacted Issaquah police in Washington state on March 18, according to the charges filed in King County Juvenile Court. According to the charges, the two defendants used the victim’s password information to post sexually explicit content on her Facebook page.

They also posted messages that indicated the victim was willing to perform sex acts on people.

The defendants instant-messaged some boys to arrange dates where sex acts were to be performed by the victim, according to the charges.

Jon Knight, the stepfather of the 12-year-old alleged victim, said his family is relieved that the case has resulted in criminal charges. He said that he wasn’t taken seriously when he reported the incident to Issaquah police and to staff at Issaquah Middle School.

Knight said his stepdaughter, Leslie Cote, has asked the media to use her name in hopes of bringing attention to the issue of cyberstalking.

Issaquah police were called to the Cote-Knight home on March 18 after Leslie’s mother, Tara Cote, called to report vulgar postings on her daughter’s Facebook page, charges said. A woman who mentored Leslie told the family that she had noticed photos on the page had been changed to show Leslie with “devil’s horns” and with the words “I’m a slut” scrawled across one image, prosecutors said.

The alterations and postings apparently became more vulgar as the night progressed.

Prosecutors said that Leslie had been over at a defendant’s house in early March when she logged into Facebook. Leslie’s password information was somehow stored on the other girl’s computer.

After the girls had a falling out, the defendants hacked into the page “with the intent of embarrassing and tormenting the victim,” Issaquah police Detective Ryan Raulerson wrote in the affidavit of probable cause filed to support the charges.

Sara Niegowski, spokeswoman for the Issaquah School District, said Tuesday the district was not conducting its own investigation into the incident because it did not occur on school property. She said the defendants are still enrolled at Issaquah Middle School.

“This incident happened off-campus, off school time and not related to our school environments. There is no disciplinary action at all. It’s not a school district incident,” Niegowski said.

Niegowski said that the incident has not been a disruption at the school.

“You know what’s a disruption is the media coverage,” she said. “We always look out for the welfare of our students.”

Knight said that his stepdaughter has been granted a restraining order forbidding the defendants from contacting her and barring them from riding her school bus. The three girls are in some of the same classes, Knight said.

On Tuesday, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said, “This case reveals the dark side of social media sites used by young people.”

In a news release, Satterberg wrote: “Many kids think that on a social media site that their actions will be anonymous and that they are free to use it as weapon to bully, harass, and intimidate another person. This case demonstrates that assuming the identity of another person on the Internet with the intent to torment them and expose them to the harassment of others is a crime.”


Spy on your kids’ Facebook

without being their friend

April 27, 2011 – 2:03PM

Internet security firm Check Point has launched software that lets parents watch over offspring on Facebook without being “friends” at the online social network.

ZoneAlarm SocialGuard alerts parents to signs of trouble in a child’s Facebook account without them being privy to all posts, comments, pictures, videos or other digital content shared between friends at the website.

The program scans Facebook profiles, communications and “friend” requests and uses algorithms to identify potential bullying, sexual overtures, or talk of drugs, violence or suicide. 

SocialGuard software runs unseen in the background, flagging suspicious activity and sending alerts to parents, according to its Redwood City, California-based creators.

“It’s about protecting your kids from the social threats out there, while still respecting their privacy and fostering open communication,” said Check Point vice president of consumer sales Bari Abdul.

“We are offering Facebook users a simple way to embrace social networking safely,” he continued.

SocialGuard is crafted to detect hacked accounts, malicious links, online predators, and cyber-bullies, according to Check Point.

The software also checks to determine whether people contacting children online are being deceptive about their ages or if a stranger is trying to become a Facebook “friend.”

“Parents are increasingly concerned, and rightfully so, about the dramatically increasing trend of criminals, predators and bullies targeting children over social networks,” said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group in Silicon Valley.

“SocialGuard provides a strong suite of tools that can effectively protect children from these types of social threats that are keeping parents awake at night.”

Check Point cited a survey indicating that 38 per cent of teenagers have ignored requests from parents to be friends on Facebook, and that 16 per cent of children have only done so as a condition of using the social network.

SocialGuard is available to order online in Australia for $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year. It can be bought from zonealarm.com.


Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Facebook fury: Kate Middletons

locked out of network

April 22, 2011
Prince William and Kate MiddletonPrince William and Kate Middleton 

It’s not easy being Kate Middleton.

The woman who will marry Prince William on April 29 at Westminster Abbey has a face and name known around the world – which is creating some hilarity and a host of problems for the hundreds, if not thousands, of women who share her name.

It’s a global goof: Some colleagues bow when they pass Catherine Middleton in the hallway of the school where she works in Sydney. When people in Pepper Pike, Ohio say they’ve heard she is about to marry a prince, Catherine Argentieri Middleton replies “I already did.”

Royal weddings

From Queen Victoria to Princess Mary, we step through time to study royal bridal fashions past and present.

One Kate Middleton in Birmingham, England, says she does not want to talk about her royal name since she’s “had enough of hearing of it.”

To comprehend the struggles faced by the many women who suddenly found themselves answering to a famous name, take the case of Kate Elizabeth Middleton, a mother of two from Kent, England.

Everywhere she goes, people ask if she’s the real thing – the bride to be, of course, not a teacher living in the English countryside.

Her passport shows her name is Kate Middleton, but thanks to a security glitch, the technology wizards who run Facebook did not believe her. She and her fellow namesakes have had to prove it.

She was born Kate Elizabeth Walker and hadn’t heard of the prince’s romance when she married Mark Middleton on April 17, 2004.

When the royal engagement was announced, Middleton the teacher, 34, changed her Facebook status to “thinking of reverting to her maiden name for a year” because of all the buzz.

“It is just crazy, particularly at the moment,” she said.

Not all the attention has been an inconvenience. Her well-known moniker has led to “fun” television and radio appearances – but the novelty has faded, especially since she was booted off Facebook.

When Middleton tried to log on to Facebook recently from her home, she saw that her account had been disabled by a security system in place to weed out imposters and fraudulent accounts.

She thinks Facebook should have recognised that there are plenty of real Kate Middletons – it is, after all, a fairly common name.

“My status updates aren’t about a lady set to marry a future king,” she said. “Just things that someone with children would do.”

After a certain amount of rigmarole, she convinced Facebook that she was legitimate and had her account reinstated with an apology.

Several other Kate Middletons reported similar experiences.

Facebook executives said some mistakes were inevitable as they tried to keep the social network secure.

Middleton has high hopes that this season of silliness will end once her famous namesake is actually married on April 29.

“Soon she’ll be Princess Catherine or Princess Kate and I can just be plain old Kate Middleton again,” she said.

“Fingers crossed. Otherwise I might cry.”

AP   Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Character Attack in Cyberland

Who is being so toxic on the net?

And why?

March 1, 2011
Facebook is one of the most common habitats of internet trolls.Facebook is one of the most common habitats of internet trolls.

Trolling – posting inflammatory comments on web sites is on the rise. Recent victims include a schoolgirl who committed suicide; a reporter attacked in Egypt; and a pregnant celebrity. Jojo Moyes reports from London.

At first glance, Natasha MacBryde’s Facebook page is nothing unusual. A pretty, slightly self-conscious blonde teenager gazes out, posed in the act of taking her own picture. But unlike other pages, this has been set up in commemoration, following her death under a train earlier this month.

Now though it has had to be moderated after it was hijacked by commenters who mocked both Natasha and the manner of her death heartlessly.

“Natasha wasn’t bullied, she was just a whore,” said one, while another added: “I caught the train to heaven LOL [laugh out loud].” Others clicked on the “like” symbol, safe in their anonymity, to indicate that they agreed.

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The messages were removed after a matter of hours, but Natasha’s grieving father Andrew revealed that Natasha’s brother had also discovered a macabre video – entitled Tasha The Tank Engine on YouTube (it has since been removed). “I simply cannot understand how or why these people get any enjoyment or satisfaction from making such disgraceful comments,” he said.

He is far from alone. Following the vicious sexual assault on NBC reporter Lara Logan in Cairo last week, online debate on America’s NPR website became so ugly that moderator Mark Memmott was forced to remove scores of comments and reiterate the organisation’s stance on offensive message-posting.

He added: “Here’s a suggestion based on my more than 30 years of reporting and editing experience. Before you submit a comment, ask yourself this question: If I had to put my real name with this, would I hit ‘publish?’ If the answer is no, the better move might be to hit ‘delete’.”

It’s a sensible message. But it’s one that fewer internet users seem to be heeding. “Trolls”, or users who deliberately post offensive or inflammatory comments, are on the rise and few websites – this one included – are immune.

America’s Today Show recently ran a story about trolls’ behaviour after the deaths of three adolescent girls. One of the girls, Alexis Pilkington, was referred to as a “suicidal slut”, while the grieving family of an 18-year-old who had died in a car crash were targeted by trolls who emailed them leaked pictures of her mutilated corpse.

Last year, after others defaced the Facebook pages of two murdered children, Australian communications minister Stephen Conroy claimed that the free-for-all nature of the internet had become “a recipe for anarchy and the Wild West”.

In Britain, website Little Gossip prompted outrage after it enabled – some say encouraged – school pupils to post unproven sexual gossip about other, named pupils. It was closed earlier this month after the owners confessed they were unable to prevent what they called “malicious and unwanted comments”.

But who is posting such vile content? And why? British neuroscientist and member of the House of Lords Baroness Greenfield has expressed concern as to whether internet use is responsible for what she sees as an increasing lack of empathy among the young. At the British Festival of Science she said that while some “very good things” were emerging from information technology, “by the same token we have got to be very careful about what price we are paying”.

Website netbullies.com has identified four kinds of people who post offensive content. The most dangerous, it says, is the “power hungry” bully, often someone who has little power or voice in real life. “They are empowered by the anonymity of the internet and communications and the fact that they never have to confront their victim.”

Someone who would agree is Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman, who has to deal daily with offensive tweets and postings that, he says now, “come with the turf”. “It’s getting worse because the internet allows for anonymity,” he says. “And anonymity is the email equivalent of drunken courage in a bar. It allows people to fire off vulgarity and threats sans consequences.”

Last month, however, Pearlman, decided to track down and confront those who had insulted him, and, in one case, tricked him into opening a link containing extreme pornography while his young daughter was present. “Matt”, the first of the commenters he confronted, apologised profusely, saying he had simply wanted to get a rise out of Pearlman. “I thought it was cool,” Matt said. “I never meant for it to reach this point.”

“Andy”, another, confessed that he was not proud of what he had done, “but the internet got the best of me”. He pleaded, without irony, for Pearlman “not to eviscerate me”. “The main problem,” says Pearlman, “is there’s no longer a stamp-and-envelope moment. Back when we communicated via letters, there was time between writing something and sending it to kick back and re-think your sentiment. Now, there’s no time. It’s write, click, send – bam!”

This appears to be true for Nir Rosen, a Fellow at New York University’s Centre for Law and Security, who resigned his post last week after his own unpleasant tweets about Lara Logan’s plight were publicised. “It was the Twitter equivalent of blurting something out…” he explained afterwards. “In those few minutes I didn’t think about it, you’re lying in bed late at night… just f…ing around on the internet thoughtlessly.”

Etiquette expert William Hanson agrees: “Writing something on Facebook, Twitter or an internet forum detaches you from your remarks… it gives people a kind of ‘courage’ to be vindictive and come out with things that in their right mind they would never say.”

But this apparent licence to express one’s most toxic thoughts is evident on ordinary newspaper websites, where, this week, for example, comments below a photograph of pregnant British pop star Myleene Klass included: “She looks a complete mess,” “totally gross”, “saggy breasted” and even “revolting”. One pregnant woman told me she had felt intimidated just reading them.

Technology experts are divided as to whether insisting on the use of real names would improve online behaviour – or whether trolls would simply find a way around it. But some websites are trying to solve the problem, harnessing the wisdom of the crowd, and relying on the good sense, and manners, of the majority.

Tech website Slashdot has for years only made visible comments that receive a certain number of “approvals” from other users. Websites such as Huffington Post and Jezebelhave recently introduced similar systems, with posts requiring peer approval. Gawker, meanwhile, requires commenters to “audition” before their remarks appear. In a bold strategy, weblog site Metafilter requires its users to pay to comment – those who make offensive remarks are banned and lose their money. It has proven a powerful deterrent.

But Facebook, which is primarily a networking, rather than commenting site, is struggling to deal with the problem, as evidenced by the callous comments left in support of killer Raoul Moat after his recent death.

In the meantime, few have faith that the internet’s “Wild West nature” will change any time soon. Anyone who writes or is written about is now a target for abuse, says Pearlman. “I don’t think it can be improved, unless there’s some sort of genuine accountability. And that’s probably impossible.”

Hanson believes the issue may simply reflect society as a whole, and that people are becoming less respectful of each other generally. “Manners are selfless – they put other people first, and we as individuals second. We must remember that the whole point of manners and civility is other people, internet or no internet.”

The Telegraph, London

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha