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The UK’s National Crime Agency recently reported that sexual assault associated with online dating had increased by six-hundred percent. That’s a shocking statistic at odds with what has become an accepted way to meet people romantically. And while many individuals have had pleasant, or at least neutral experiences with online dating, those promoting the activity are often simultaneously selling it.
Mary Aiken specializes in the impact of technology on human behaviour, and has written extensively on issues relating to the intersection between humankind and technology — or as she describes it “where humans and technology collide.” She appears regularly on radio and television and frequently gives talks to the public and private sector on an international basis. Dr. Mary Aiken is an Adjunct Associate Professor at University College Dublin, Geary Institute for Public Policy, and Academic Advisor (Psychology) to the European Cyber Crime Centre (EC3) at Europol. She is a lecturer in Criminology and Research Fellow at the School of Law, Middlesex University, a Fellow of the Society for Chartered IT Professionals, a Sensemaking Fellow at the IBM Network Science Research Centre, and Distinguished Professor of the Practice of Cyber Analytics at AIRS Hawaii Pacific University. She is a member of the Hague Justice Portal advisory board and Director of the Cyberpsychology Research Network. Her groundbreaking work inspired the CBS television series “CSI: Cyber.”
Mary Aiken: Lots of people have a positive experience of online dating. One of the criticisms of my book is that I showcase a lot of negative content in terms of all things cyber. But there’s a good reason for that. We have an army of marketers over here telling us it’s all good. I want to position myself over here saying well it’s not so good. And hopefully then we can meet in the center and have a balanced debate. So online dating. What could go wrong? Well like all things in life it comes with risk. So the NCA which is the National Crime Agency in the UK, police force, recently issued a report to say that there has been a six-fold increase in sexual assaults associated with online dating. And what was really disturbing about that report is that 71 percent of these assaults took place on the first date and either in the home of the victim or the offender. So the question is well why is that happening? So if you look more closely at the research as a forensic cyberpsychologist the thing that really disturbed me is that the offenders reported didn’t have the typical profile of a sex offender in that they didn’t have previous convictions and they didn’t have a criminal record.
A large number of them did not have a typical profile. So what does this mean? Does it mean that sex offenders are now moving online to online dating forums to find victims more easily? Or does it mean that something else is happening in the dating world and it’s ending up with this catastrophic outcome. So let’s think about it from a cyberpsychology perspective. When you date online you create this avatar, this profile, this representation of self. But is it really you or is it an idealized version of self? And let’s not forget the person that you’re trying to date is also creating this profile. Princess Diana – we all remember Princess Diana. She said that her marriage was a little crowded because there were three people in it. Well online dating you’ve got four people in the relationship. You’ve got two cyber selves and you’ve got two real world selves. So the question is do you really know the person you’re dating. We talk to kids about stranger danger. I want to talk to you guys about stranger danger in terms of online dating. As the police say, get to know the person and not the profile. So what is the science behind why you think this stranger is suddenly an intimate friend?
In cyberpsychology we talk about hyper personal interaction which basically means that people move towards extreme amounts of self-disclosure online very quickly. Self-disclosure in the real world operates at around 40 percent according to one study but increases to 80 percent once you go online. This is a lean medium. Very few visual cues. And what happens is that as you get pieces of information you can tend to fill in the blanks and turn this person into something much more aspirational, your ideal…
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