Difficult to Tell the Bad Guys

It’s increasingly becoming more difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

When I went to university, I answered an advertisement in the newspaper for a sales job that promised profits of $400 per unit.  I did the math and very quickly determined that I could become a student millionaire and so went to the info session.  The job turned out to be selling encyclopedias by going door to door making the sales.  We were given the tips for how to get into the house and how to engage people with conversation and how to lay a guilt trip on the parents for not providing opportunities for their kids.  Shortly after I started listening, I started looking for the exit.  Part of the plan, I guess, when you’re delivering these messages is to apply the pressure to keep you in the room so I sat through the session and left, never to return.  But, at least I knew who the bad guys were in this scenario.  It could have been me.  I wonder if anyone ever made money on this product.

Times change and going door to door just isn’t practical and does reach enough people.  It was easier to reach a wider audience by using the telephone.  Whether it was a person making the call or an automated machine, you could make more contacts on the phone than the time consuming process of going door to door.  It’s easy to spot these bad guys too. “Good morning, Mr. Peterson, how are you today?”  Like you care.  Click.  With the purchase of a little caller id option, you can even avoid that opening line unless you’re feeling like taking someone on.

With the advent of email, it gets even easier for the bad guys to make more and more contacts.  With the appropriate software and mailing lists harvested from a variety of sources, the bad guys can hit most of us so easily.  I read an article that indicated that nearly 80% of all email is “spam” or unsolicited email.  Fortunately, most email providers filter this the best that they can so that you don’t have to deal with it all.  It’s still easy to spot the bad guys.  The “Dear friend” or the misspelled words are a dead giveaway.

Image by luc legay via Flickr

Now, with social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, or even your friendly local blog, there’s a new opportunity.  These resources are more open and transparent than ever before and people are encouraged to befriend or get into a conversation with others.  Who knows if a friend of a friend is actually a friend?  Just yesterday, I had a reply to a blog post from someone who “found me on Google and really likes my stuff.”  Hey, cool, that’s how it’s supposed to work.  But the message continues “I can help you make money from at home just by …”.  Click.  This time, not the phone, but the mouse.

As we move through this chronology, we see an increasing ease with which the bad guys can reach more and more people.  It requires less effort with more contacts.  It’s also difficult to judge the messenger.  At university, I’d be the guy with blue jeans and a t-shirt.  Now, with social networking using forms for input and replies, there’s very little to discern between the good and the bad.  They all look the same.  If you have to stop and think about the content and who the messenger is, put yourself in the shoes of today’s youth trying to get online and making friends.  How do they know?

Yes, we’re back to the old media literacy discussion again.  Ontario teachers have resources for classrooms in Realty Check and for professional dialogue through the other licensed Media Awareness titles.  It’s an uneasy topic to discuss because we didn’t grow up in this current reality.  We don’t know all the answers.  There is no text book with answer key.  We, and our students, are growing up together with all this.  We should be learning together to keep all of us safe.

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