Cyberspace, including texting, internet searches, Facebook and such is a web in more ways than one, ensnaring people into its trap.
The Internet’s great strength is derived from its accessibility, which serves as both its best advantage as well as its most sinister disadvantage.
Since announcing for Mayor, Anthony Weiner is once again, in the news, and entangled in that web. For the past week, newsfeeds have been preoccupied with a rekindled scandal involving Mr. Weiner. The topic; the extramarital tweets and activities allegedly committed by Mr. Weiner before and after his resignation from Congress.
Weiner insists that he never physically cheated on his wife. The extent of the infidelity consisted only of electronic activity. At the center of all this brouhaha is the Internet and Social Media.
Here is a recap: Weiner sent provocative photos of and chats, as everyone knows, to young women via twitter. In 2011, he has admitted to having these “communications” with six women over the past three years, a time span that predates and extends into that of his marriage to Huma Abedin. And, now we find, he continued after being outed.
Weiner maintains that his contact with these women began and ended online, with no change of location in between. According to Mr. Weiner, it was purely an Internet relationship, if it can even be branded with the “R” word.
Whether these were “communications” or “relationships”, the fact that this form of contact was extra-marital remains on the public’s mind. So much of the media has become devoted to the lingering question: what about Mrs. Weiner? She should leave him. She shouldn’t leave him. Perhaps she isn’t leaving him because she knew about his Internet dalliances before hand and is determined to get through this. She isn’t leaving him because her ethnic and religious values are tying her down. She isn’t leaving him because, etc. etc. And so on it goes - pure speculative nonsense.
As far as Weiner goes, for some, it almost seems too easy to just blame this on an Internet-sex addiction, as if that serves as a convenient cover-up. But consider Weiner as a human being and not just an Internet sex addict.
How easy, we must ask, is it for someone to fall into the Social Media’s seductive web? Yes, he was a powerful political figure, a sharp thinker and he definitely won even more cool points after it became well known that he is a good friend of Jon Stewart. But the web can be more powerful than we think—and this is a lesson for us to learn.
With the Internet, Mr. Weiner had access to admiring women with the mere click of a mouse, and they had access to him. It is well-known that sites like Twitter and Facebook shamelessly advertise their non-existent privacy settings. However, the illusion did, as it always does, give a false sense of security. And so it was a matter of time before innocent conversation became flirtation, sextation, and then sending electronic photos online.
Young Adult Programming, such as Disney and Nickelodeon and even MTV run ads where children and teens, all of whom at this point avidly use social media outlets online, are warned: Do not do online what you wouldn’t do offline, because this has become an unfortunate, albeit common phenomenon.
Cyber-bullying most popularly stems from cowardly mean girls writing horrible things about their peers online, usually things they would never have the guts to actually say in public. Because it somehow seems acceptable to type some nasty things, when saying them out loud and in person would be inappropriate.
We can apply this problematic approach to Anthony Weiner. He insists he would never physically cheat on his wife, yet to do it with words and electronic files was deemed okay enough by his challenged moral compass.
As Al Cooper famously put it in his great book, CyberSex: The Dark Side of the Force (2000), an Internet sex addiction manifests itself because of three underlying factors: Accessibility, Affordability, and Anonymity.
Sex and Porn are a Google search and mouse-click away. Cyber porn is most often free, and even when it is not, it is cheap. And then of course, there is the illusion of anonymity. A middle aged man can appear to be a teenager and vice versa in cyberspace, and no one has to know. And now, the general public has entered this sphere with sites like Twitter and Facebook.
To Cooper’s three A’s, Accessibility, Affordability, and Anonymity, we would like to add a fourth - Amplification. Josefa Silman and I wrote about amplification in a comprehensive book by Villanova professor Len Shyles, called, Decyphering Cyberspace (2000). Amplification makes the Internet a powerful engine of desire.
The Internet serves to amplify a person’s existing tendencies, both for the good and for the bad.
If you have a need to learn about music, the Internet opens doors, and then some more. I once met a young man from rural New York who had an interest in contemporary Japanese music. He was able to learn about the genre and even communicate with the artists and critics that would have been unheard of twenty years ago.
The Internet gives thousands of people a way to express themselves and has amplified the writing of many. But the Internet also amplifies more base instincts, like bullying, criminality and yes, sex! For cyber sex addicts, the problem is that their desire for sex is fueled by the four A’s and can spin out of control. They may not have the courage [or accessibility] to meet people just for sex in person, but online they virtually have no barrier, and their desire magnifies in amplitude. Hence Weiner’s six or so “connections”.
Mr. Weiner got caught in the web of the web, where the cost, in his case, clearly outweighed the benefits. He is the shining example of a man who was rising in his career as a champion of the middle class and an example to all with his interreligious marriage. Mr. Weiner and his marriage were fated to experience the outcome of a simple human being dealing with the four A’s. Not easy.
An inevitable question arises in the midst of all this? Are sexts and online chats even cheating? To put it simply, if cryptically, once we created the Internet, we created a whole new realm in which to stumble.
It is a Brave New World we live in, and not everyone understands that the Internet is not a separate world, but very much integrated into our society. Its accessibility opens page after page of gratification. In circumstances of stress, this is an easy road to all kinds of addictive behaviors.
Have we as a community developed sufficient superego defenses to deal with the seductiveness of the four A’s. Think about it the next time you hear of this problem.
And it will happen again.