Lesson from America: Reality is both online and offline & policing should cover it

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL October 29, 2018

Here’s something to think about after the murderous attack on the Pittsburgh synagogue and the despatch of 13 pipe bombs to prominent Americans of a particular political stripe: our reality is both online and offline.

The mass shooting at the hands of Robert Bowers, who spewed anti-Semitic hatred online, came a day after the arrest of Cesar Sayoc, who seethed with political rage against President Trump’s ‘enemies’ and threatened them on Twitter.

Both Bowers and Sayoc took their online threats off-line and made them frighteningly real. Everyone who rants and fumes online is obviously not a Bowers or a Sayoc but the possibility of a small percentage fusing online and offline reality cannot totally be discounted.

What this means is the online world can no longer be taken as a spin-off. It’s as real as the other and it certainly has real-world consequences.

I’ve written this before (check out this piece calling for an online Interpol) but online criminality should be treated the same as offline. Whatever is an offence in the offline world should be an offence online. If it is an offline offence to rant against someone so should it be online.

Accordingly, governments should devote resources to online policing in the same way as they pay for a police force to patrol the streets, stand guard at airports, railway stations and government buildings and to record and investigate public complaints.

Online policing would need online search warrants for social media accounts, similar perhaps to those required by offline police to enter someone’s home.

And finally, having an online account – social media, email – should have the same requirements as opening a bank account with real identification showing verifiable details.