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When Web 2.0 Goes Wrong


Image: Paul Rj Muller

Usually, Web 2.0 just gets it right. Facebook has brought together old friends and keeps connections alive, blogs have given everyone the power to publish without the need to be a media baron first, and Twitter is now letting Iranian demonstrators bring millions onto the streets and send out information that might just change the government.

And yet, those same tools that have proved so useful for communicating, networking and publishing have also been used for more dubious purposes. Here are a number of ways in which Web 2.0 has gone wrong:

Pool Jumping with Google Earth

According to a story published last year in the UK’s Daily Mail, which might not be the most reliable source, groups of young people in Britain are using Google Earth to identify homes with swimming pools then sending invitations through Facebook groups for impromptu pool parties. The sessions specify a meeting place, a time – usually between midnight and 3am – and mobile telephone numbers for contacting the organizers.

While flash mobs have long been one product of Web 2.0, those gatherings were usually harmless fun that brought like-minded people together. Finding a bunch of people in your swimming pool in the middle of the night and a pile of beer cans in your roses isn’t quite so harmless.

There seems to be little sign that the habit is repeating itself, even as the summer gets under way again. Instead pool-based Facebook groups seem to be largely dedicated to people jumping in with their phones in their pockets. Not quite the way to dive into social media.

Rocket Launching with Google Earth

Trespassing might be naughty but it won’t actually kill anyone. Hamas rocket launchers in Gaza do kill people and they also do it with Google Earth. The BBC has described how computer-savvy militants from Fatah line up targets with Google’s satellite images before sending their rockets into nearby Israeli towns. One racketeer even complained that the map-makers deliberately mask Israeli military installations.

If that is true, it might not be the first time. There have also been reports that Google replaced pictures showing UK forces’ bases in Basra with older images taken before the Iraq conflict after British forces were targeted by Iraqi militants, and terrorists arrested in the US had apparently planned an attack on JFK International Airport using Google Earth.

And you thought Google’s satellite globe was just for looking at the roof of your house.

Divorced by SMS

Ending a relationship is never easy. It starts with “we have to talk” and always seems to end with “it’s not you, it’s me.” Wouldn’t life be easier if you could just send a text message saying, “You’re dumped”?

Easier, but not very nice – unless you happen to live in Dubai, in which case you can not only dump your girlfriend by SMS, you can even divorce your wife. One report even quoted one impatient man who had sent his wife the text message: “Why are you late? You are divorced.”

It’s questionable whether that would stand though. Under Islamic law, the husband has to tell his wife three times that he divorces her for the marriage to have ended – which requires a bit more thumb-work — but it is enough of a phenomenon to have prompted officials to take action. Singapore’s Islamic authorities have banned the practice of divorce by SMS, and while the Malaysian court has sanctioned it, the government there has criticized the practice.

Westerners will have to stick with divorce lawyers.

Texting Bullies

Bullying has been around as long as there have been children, schools and allowances to swipe off the small kids, but until communication became universal, it was usually limited by location. You had to be in the same cubicle as the school bully if he was going to stick your head down the toilet.

Today though, the ability to send messages such as “We are watching you … we are going to kill you … we are going to kill your mum”, as Wired notes, means that the victimization can continue wherever the bully might be and wherever the victim is too.

Even the home no longer offers a safe respite, the distance means that bullying is much easier to do and the knowledge that someone has your personal details makes the attack feel even more intrusive. Wired cites one report of a teenager who committed suicide after receiving 20 abusive messages in half an hour.

Children tend to be pretty creative when it comes to finding ways to do what they want, and that includes bullying. One company though has spotted an opportunity. CellChek is a piece of software, currently in Beta, that is intended to protect children from text bullying as well as adult grooming and offensive online material.

The bullies will have to go back to the bathrooms.

Fired on Twitter

There’s been a lot of talk about how Twitter can find people jobs, connect them to customers and allow their businesses to build brands, form communities and conquer the world. It certainly can do all that, if it’s done right.

But when it’s done wrong, micro-blogging can also have some pretty negative consequences too. When the “theconnor” famously tweeted:

“Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.”

he received a response from another Cisco worker who asked who his hiring manager was. The tweet caused a storm and even produced a dedicated website.

It wasn’t clear whether “Cisco Fatty” did have his job offer rescinded, but he certainly wasn’t the first person to get in trouble for saying something he shouldn’t have done on the Web’s open communication channels. Soren Dayton, a communications officer for John McCain’s presidential campaign, was suspended for tweeting about a video mash-up smearing Barack Obama, and MSNBC reports that a Philadelphia Eagles stadium employee was fired for tweeting that the “Dam Eagles R Retarted!!” [sic].

He might have been a little unlucky to have lost his job for that, but here’s a bunch of people who are lucky to keep their jobs for their daft tweets.

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