This week, 27-year-old Glendale resident Karen Kazaryan was sentenced to five years in federal prison for hacking into the accounts of hundreds of female victims and coercing them to send naked pictures of themselves to him.
U.S. District Judge George H. King called Kazaryan a “cyber-terrorist,” and sentencing papers from prosecutors outline his goals when he gained access into the Facebook, email and Skype accounts of his victims: “to get more naked pictures in any way he could, and get more victims.”
In some cases, he obtained photos from the accounts themselves and used them to extort victims to provide more. If they refused, he published the original photos online.
Kazaryan’s sentencing came on the heels of another story making the rounds that is equally as shocking: U.S. and British spy agencies had infiltrated popular online games World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and gathering information on players who they feared might use the games to communicate secretly and set up terrorist attacks.
It’s even said they used the games to find potential future agents to recruit.
Perhaps in the world of Snowden revelations, Facebook status updates contributing to firings, burglaries and marriages ending in divorce — and lest we forget, the Glendale School District’s plans to monitor student posts that made headlines both in the United States and overseas — to call these stories “shocking” isn’t fitting.
All of this, coupled with research studies that show the impact social media has on mental health and the unhealthy reliance we have on technology is increasingly leading me to a decision I feel I am forced to make:
“Dear Internet, I feel like we need to break up. It’s not just you, it’s me, too.
“As much as I like you, and have championed you since the days of that glorious, off-note connection noise that signaled I was signed on to AOL from my land line, I feel your ways are disrupting my life.
“In addition to recent spying revelations, an increase in “sextortion” cases and that time I ordered a baby shower gift for a friend and then, because of the information you had gathered on me, received everything from Pampers to coupons for baby formula addressed to me for an entire year, you have affected my ability to concentrate. Focusing is getting increasingly difficult.”
It was on a recent train journey I explicitly noticed it for the first time, when in the middle of reading a fascinating book that would have absolutely drawn me in years ago, I bookmarked my page several times just so I could check up on my various social network accounts on my phone.
Even as I write this piece, the minute I feel a thought isn’t progressing as smoothly from my neurons to my fingers as I’d like, my instinct is to check social media.
The instant gratification is overwhelmingly something we are becoming programmed for. The fact that I’ve seen 3-year-olds who spend a majority of their time on iPads, and know how to operate them better than I do is a testament to this.
My intent on withdrawing from the Internet is a tough one — for journalists like me whose lives are intertwined with technology, it’s almost impossible. But the idea of my phone interfering with a book is almost sacrilegious, and data I purposely and consciously put out in the world being used against me is disturbing enough.
I feel the need to reclaim a balance I once had. A few days ago, I was paying for my purchase of a hat when the clerk demanded — not asked — me to give her my email address for their database. I refused. One small step for me, one giant leap for my long-term sanity.
LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.