Even though I may have missed the keynote speaker, Anita Sarkeesian, I ended hearing some great speeches on topics I knew little to nothing about. I made it to the symposium by 1:00 till 2:15 just in time to see the speakers during session one in Regents Hall. I was a little underwhelmed by the speaking enthusiasm and abilities of the first 3 speakers. I do not want to generalize an entire field, so I will just say that these speakers probably conduct better research than they do speaking in front of a crowd. Lindsay Ems, who spoke about the use of technology in the Amish community, had the type of topic that would keep people interested, but her public speaking did not help her case at all.
The speaker I am going to focus on was Dara Byrne, who covered “Digilante Ethics”. I was intrigued and captured by the way she spoke what she was speaking about. Byrne’s topic was something I did not know anything about, thus all the information she was sharing was a lot to take in. It was interesting that she framed her studies and research around the legitimate crimes committed on the internet; and thus the types of communities that are born from that. There is a digital response to actual criminal activity that occurs online. Government organizations, businesses, and individuals partake in this digilantism.
She focused specifically on the subject of Nigerian emails. Being that this type of fraud started in the 90s, I was a young kid who didn’t fully understand or use the internet. I was unaware that there were people out there that sent out emails, luring people into a money deal that would ultimately scam them in the end. What was even more surprising was the fact that hundreds, possibly thousands, of people fell prey to this practice. The pictures that accompanied Byrne’s speech were uncomfortable and exploitative. Men and women’s bodies were used in weird pictures that symbolized “trophies” online. The evolution and continued practice of these emails soon grew outside of Nigeria. She even mentioned that Nigerians in Nigeria were responsible for less than 5% of these scams. I understand that terms and neologisms need to coined in order for movements to start or more simply, to spread awareness of an issue.
By the end of this speech, I had many questions come to mind: A couple decades down the line, are these emails still problematic? Where do these emails originate now? If this still occurs, what are the numbers of people that fall prey to this scam compared to in the early 90s? I feel as though Byrne needed and deserved more time for her topic but I came away from it somewhat unsure of certain aspects of digilantism, more specifically Nigerian emails. All through this speech, I could not help but think of the show called “Arrow”, which is based on a vigilante in a town ravaged by crime and bad people. This man takes it upon himself to make sure his town and its people are safe from people, companies, or organizations that could cause harm. It seems the world if digilantism is a little more lawful and structured compared to “The Arrow”. Regardless, this topic is something of interest to me. I will definitely keep my eye out for more stories like Byrne pointed out.
Words by: Dana D’Onofrio