Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Criminology

Understanding Cyber Victimization: Digital Architectures and the Disinhibition Effect

Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Criminology

Understanding Cyber Victimization: Digital Architectures and the Disinhibition Effect

Article excerpt


We live immersed in a society that has undergone vertiginous changes in a remarkably short amount of time. Researchers in the fields of sociology, psychology, behavioural sciences, and law are trying to comprehend the more-or-less radical rise of a new relational paradigm of personal and social interactions (e.g. Castells, 1997). The proliferation of Information and Communication Technologies (hereafter, ICT) is a reality that continues to advance inexorably, permeating everything in our daily lives. We often hear about an intergenerational 'digital gap' (Tapscott, 2008; Palfrey & Gasser, 2008); however, aside from the fact that this supposed gap will soon cease to exist, technology actually affects everyone. Crime dynamics and, consequently, victimisation are not alien to the set of changes wrought by the digital era.

With a focus on the prevention of cyber crime, in the following lines I will describe the way in which the behaviour of victims in cyber space decisively elevates their risk of victimisation, singling out some environmental predictors of online victimisation. To do so, I will first outline why the design of digital architectures notably increases criminal opportunities and facilitates cyber victimisation, and how the defining traits of cyber space affect people's daily lives and incline them to adopt riskier lifestyles. Then, I will try to show the importance of the victimological perspective in explaining the criminal event, designing prevention strategies and assigning criminal liability. My analytical perspective is supported, principally, by routine activity theory (Cohen & Felson, 1979) and lifestyle theory (Hindelang, Gottfredson & Garofalo, 1978), along with the criminological perspectives encompassed by opportunity theory. The latter are related to the theory formulated by Jaishankar, "Space Transition Theory of Cyber Crimes" (Jaishankar, 2008), in which he shows why people act differently when transitioning from a physical space to a virtual one. In his view, the fundamental criminogenic factors of cyber space include alack of dissuasion associated with anonymity, as well as a criminal propensity of some people who feel repressed in the 'real' world to liberate themselves online and commit crimes in cyber space. The interesting work of Suler (2004) follows the same line, as we will see in detail. Finally, in the Spanish context, my analysis will be strongly influenced by the excellent contribution of Miró Llinares (2012).

Subsequently, beginning with the criminogenic characteristics of digital architectures, I will describe based on literature review a set of psychological, anthropological, and sociological traits that comprise the profile of victims or, at least, certain groups of victims. This analysis will focus on describing how the surroundings influence one's thoughts, desires, and actions. Finally, I will summarise some cyber crime (or more accurately, cyber victimisation) prevention strategies, concluding my reflections with a critical review of certain profile stereotypes of both offenders and victims.

1. Introduction: Digital Architectures and Human Nature-Technology and Crime

In the face of new forms of delinquency associated with the rise of internet users, I suggested elsewhere (Agustina, 2009) that the field of criminology should resolutely undertake the study of those criminogenic factors that facilitate illicit behaviour. Digital architectures generate an atmosphere of anonymity that protects, promotes, and nourishes new methods of attack against people and institutions. Furthermore, due to the very nature of the web and the possibilities of intercommunication presented by ICT, criminal conduct acquires a harmful potential that multiplies the potential injuries to third parties. In this sense, it is necessary to define and deepen the existing relationships between (i) the limits and rules governing this virtual space, and (ii) the consequent attraction or generation of delinquency. …

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