Don’t Blame The Internet

By , May 6, 2011 2:30 pm

If you read or watch the news with any sort of regularity, you’d think there is evil lurking all over the Internet ready to kill you.

In just a few minutes on Google I found two “Facebook killers” (here and here), a “Facebook shooting,” a “MySpace murder trial” and a “Twitter murder.” Then, of course, there is the “Craigslist Killer.”

Now, it’s’s turn to be associated with a crime.

The dating site will now screen its members against the National Sex Offender Registry. This is after a California woman, Carole Markin, alleges she was sexually assaulted by a man she met on the dating site. Here are some of the facts of the case from CNN/HLN:

Markin claims she met a man named Alan Wurtzel, who according to the lawsuit has a record of “six separate convictions for sexual battery” in Los Angeles County alone.

She told HLN that Wurtzel forced her to perform sexual acts on him, at her residence, while they were on their second date.

Markin said afterward, “I looked up his name (on the computer) and I saw that he had a bad past.”

An attorney for Wurtzel, in a statement sent to HLN, said her client and Markin engaged in consensual, romantic contact together and then, “Eight days later she inexplicably called police.”

The civil class action lawsuit against Match says the dating site failed, “to undertake a basic screening process that disqualifies from membership anyone who has a documented history of sexual assault.”

First, let me say that this woman is not to be blamed at all for what allegedly happened. Her attacker is to blame.

But I don’t think Match is to blame either.

In an interview on “Good Morning America,” titled “ Assault Victim Speaks Out,” Markin said, “I just didn’t expect that there would be somebody with a criminal background on the service… When you’ve met nice successful men previously on the same site, you just don’t assume the worst.”

A stranger is a stranger no matter where you meet them. And you can’t blame the website or bar or library where you meet someone if they say one thing, but turn out to be something else.

I was on Match for six months before I met my wife Holly there. It was a good experience, but as I perused profiles, I knew I couldn’t completely know a prospective date from what I learned about them on Match. As much “winking,” emailing or talking on the phone transpired, those first dates were blind dates in many ways. I was still meeting a stranger.

What’s bothering me about this story is that it portrays the Internet as a uniquely scary place. It’s the implication that this alleged crime happened because of its connection to an Internet dating site. president Mandy Ginsberg said “ is a fantastic service, having changed the lives of millions of people through the relationships and marriages it has given rise to, but people have to exercise common sense and prudence with people they have just met, whether through an online dating service or any other means [emphasis added].” Exactly.

I once read somewhere that the Internet is like life. Many good things happen every day, but bad things can happen too. Steps can be taken to reduce the risk of some of those bad things from happening, but the Internet itself isn’t to blame.

The Internet is still relatively new and it’s human nature for someone to fear what they don’t know. The news media uses well-known companies and crime to create headlines that try to exploit that fear for ratings or (ironically) pageviews. These crimes are actually about the people who allegedly committed them and their victims. The crimes themselves shouldn’t be an indictment of the way in which they met.

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