By Charles Cooper, ZDNet News
April 28, 1999 6:12 AM PT
I had intended to write a gee-whiz column about the sly campaign waged by America Online to turn Redmond, Wash., into a ghost town. But my musings on the excellent adventures of Bill and Steve will have to wait until another time.
That's because some of this country's national leaders are saying predictably dumb things explaining the role supposedly played by software programs and the Internet in last week's awful massacre at a Littleton, Colo., high school.
Within hours of the shooting, Republican presidential contender Gary Bauer was on national television, decrying the dark influence that Doom and other shoot-em-up software programs has on the nation's young. He was followed in short order by Jerry Falwell, Bill Bennett, Dan Quayle and a host of other sanctimonious scolds who rushed on air to warn the good folks in the heartland about the dark side of the Internet.
Their air wave blitz is having the desired effect.
In a newly commissioned Gallup study, 82 percent of the people polled blamed the Internet -- at least in part -- for causing the shootings at Columbine high school.
I can see the headlines now: "Guns don't kill people, the Internet kills people."
Just so you don't think everyone's inhaling wacky weed, 88 percent of the respondents in the same poll also said the killers' easy access to guns played a role in the horrible event.
To be sure, there is undeniably a lot of junk out there -- on the Internet and in the commercial software game market. And I suppose you could make an argument that there needs to be limits on the amount of access lonely sociopaths like Eric Harris, one of the shooters, have to the Web and to certain software games.
All this is, sadly, after the fact and certain folks are seizing on the fact that Harris posted violent messages on a Web site that included descriptions on how to make pipe bombs. Of course, the Monday morning quarterbacks conveniently fail to note that the Internet might have served as an early warning system -- that is, had anybody bothered to check.
And now we're hearing about the damaging effects of playing Doom and Duke Nuke 'Em, two games that were reportedly popular with the Littleton killers. Well, as a confirmed Doom player, I haven't had an urge to go out and commit mass murder lately. The same applies to the hundreds of thousands of other people who take breaks during the day to blast away at Doom's mutant gorillas and other sundry cyber monsters.
Before the parade of talking heads dedicated to this subject gets any longer, I'd like them to explain the Internet connection to the actions of Charles Whitman, who climbed a clock tower at the University of Texas in July 1966 to shoot 16 people. Or for that matter, would someone please explain the computer game connection to the motivations of murderers like Richard Speck or Charles Starkweather?
Oh, in the days before personal computers, people also committed awful deeds. I see.
Kids in this generation aren't any more screwed up than they were thirty years ago. In the aftermath of Littleton, the more sober minds out there understand that parents and teachers have a more difficult responsibility deciding how to ration computer and Internet access.
For demagogues, the Internet is as tempting and as easy a whipping boy as is Hollywood -- especially when offering up monochromatic cures for society's darkest ills.
It may be good politics but it's intellectually dishonest.