Among other things, the Internet allows strangers to connect in ways they couldn't before. And, yes, arranging private meetings on the Internet can be dangerous. One Massachusetts headline-writer dubbed it a "tool for crime. This is neither new -- personals ads in some newspapers have offered the same service for decades -- nor especially alarming. Philip Markoff, the "Craigslist killer. Likewise, some 50 million people use Craigslist every month, most of them for business, some to meet people, some, no doubt, for sex. And if the killing can be tied to a cultural trend or, better yet, sex, a local tragedy can vault to the top of the national news.
This is neither new -- personals ads in some newspapers have offered the same service for decades -- nor especially alarming. There are some crazy people out there. But driving 70 mph on the highway can be dangerous, too. Would we then be wringing our hands over the need to close bars and control bulletin boards? But let's have a little perspective. Because homicide is an inherently irrational act, people often look for external forces that provided either motive or opportunity. The crime dominating the news this week is murder, not prostitution. Millions of others get from here to there without incident. And, yes, arranging private meetings on the Internet can be dangerous. Media bias plays a role here as well. One Massachusetts headline-writer dubbed it a "tool for crime. It is a part of trying to understand a hideous crime, but it also subtly shifts responsibility from the criminal to a tool or activity that is, for millions of other people, perfectly harmless. They shift the focus from the killer to the guns he used, the racism he expressed, the video games he played. Americans are murdered every day, but only a few become national stories. Likewise, some 50 million people use Craigslist every month, most of them for business, some to meet people, some, no doubt, for sex. Markoff could just as easily found a victim by answering a Craigslist ad from someone trying to sell an old couch. And if the killing can be tied to a cultural trend or, better yet, sex, a local tragedy can vault to the top of the national news. A quick glance at some of the personals ads posted on Craigslist -- generally posted by the user, with no human intervention by Craigslist's small staff -- reveals that solicitations for prostitution have largely moved from the street corner to the Internet. It must share the blame for "enabling" the killer, commentators huff, as if there were blood on the Craigslist servers. We pray justice will be done for the tragic murder of Julissa Brisman. So take an attractive female victim, a white med student who looks like the boy next door, a trendy Internet hook that involves sex and presto: So the headline writers who have made "Craigslist killer" the phrase of the week have done no favors for the small California company whose mostly free online advertising Web site has had a huge impact on the way Americans do business. Among other things, the Internet allows strangers to connect in ways they couldn't before. People lose their lives every day doing it. It helps if the victim is an attractive, white female think JonBenet Ramsey or Natalie Holloway -- especially if there are good photos of her available -- or if the killer is rich, well-educated and handsome think Neil Entwistle. And Craigslist didn't kill anyone.
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