Sunday, 12 November 2017

Reality vs. Internet fantasy.

Why would a lady send nude photos of herself to a man online she hardly know?

This is my conundrum this morning triggered by the headline in the Straits Times yesterday: "Man jailed over "nude photos" sex demands."

This is the backdrop.

The offender was a canvas maker named Alvin Yeo Pei Jin. He is 49. He calls himself "Happy Tan" - a self-pleasure-seeking purveyor I guess.

He was a stalker and a sex predator online, more specifically, on Facebook. On his Facebook, he puts up faces of unknown, good-looking Taiwanese men instead of his own face (for the most obvious reason I guess) to sweeten the honey trap.

So, with that deceptive front cover, he goes around looking for specific target, that is, middle-aged women with long hair.

When he finds them, he will befriend them on Facebook, chat up online, move to phone messaging, and then ask the women for nude photos of themselves.

Strange baiting methods, but in the online world, you will be surprised the bites you get when you throw such twisted request out there.

And the first bite was a 52 yr-old in 2015. They chatted for some time before Alvin requested for her nude photos. Curiously, she gave them to him. He then used the nude photos to blackmail her for sex. The victim rejected his advances and reported him to the police.

Then came the second bite in 2016. She was 48 yrs old, and someone Alvin's family knew.

With his identity masked behind a good looking Taiwanese man, Alvin told her he was a widower with two children. Instead of being a honey pot, he went for being a pity pot to win the victim's sympathy.

He then asked her for nude photos of herself and again, she gave them to him. Go figure - wouldn't one be extremely suspicious when another asks for nude photos?

With that, he harassed her for sex. He made numerous threats, and one of the threats was to leave her nude photos "outside her home so that her husband would see them." Yes, she's married.

The victim was shocked and immediately blocked Alvin on Facebook. She also lodged a police report.

A few days later, what she found stuck on the gas meter outside her home was "an A4-sized full frontal nude picture of herself, but with her face torn off." Apparently, Alvin made good his threat.

There was even a message he left at her gas meter with the nude photos. It reads: "Tomorrow, if you don't reply to my message (for sex), I will post your big face at the door there."

Six days later, after being stonewalled, Alvin used a black marker and penned this on the wall outside her home: "Block me, waiting for death."

FYI, Alvin is not a widower with children as claimed. That's false advertising. His lawyer in mitigation said that his client's wife "is suffering from degenerative diseases, and has been using a wheelchair for about four years. They have two children." They are the real victims and my heart goes out to them.

In Court this week, Alvin was sentenced to 13 months for five charges, "including mischief, and insulting the modesty of a woman by filming a colleague in the shower in 2009."

Lesson? Mm...more like a question actually...and it is the question I first started out with: "Why would a lady send nude photos of herself to a man online she hardly know?"

Now, I know to the two adult victims, Alvin is not really a stranger. They have chatted up with him online. They knew each other for some time. But he was nevertheless still someone they hardly knew.

So, for someone you hardly know, why would you want to give photos of the most intimate, private and protected part of yourself to him? Is it because one thinks it is all just for fun, and nothing would come out of it?

I mean, no matter how sweet, "good looking" and charming he is (or appears to be online - and we all know one can easily smoke out a false profile identity by doing a simple background check), why would you risk unnecessary exposure of yourself, my god, with face and all, to someone whom you only know online - a virtual personality?

Is it because he asks politely for them?

And mind you, these are not young teenage girls, whose innocence, ignorance and rebellious streak may have caused them to commit such unthinking folly. You can somehow excuse their conduct on account of their age, naivety and gullibility as a form of personal lamentation.

But the victims here are married (I presume the other victim is). And whether long hair or short, they are "grown-up" adults, above 40, and have children of their own. Shouldn't they practise what they preach to their children about stranger danger or Internet predator?

Don't they know that this is not Vegas, where what happens online doesn't stay "happened" online forever - it readily spills over into the real world.

Because like it or not, the words, thoughts and pictures you mindlessly offer online with naive and hoped-for anonymity (in the name of tease, dare, fun and/or play - even temporary escapism into virtual space) will viciously boomerang back and bite you in the derrière when things turn sour or go down south. 

Trust in the virtual world is like a commodity, it is first "manufactured" by deceptive advertising to lure you to sell it to the highest bidder, and thereafter, it is used by the bidder to extract, exploit and extort.

I know it may seem that I am being unduly unfair to the victims here by focusing on them instead of Alvin. For he is clearly the author of his own misfortune, as well as the misfortune of others.

Alvin's actions are beyond reprehensible, and he is paying the full price for it. He is the one who started it all. He is the main offender, the mastermind. I can't imagine how his disabled wife and children are coping with it.

But there is a bigger picture or lesson here. It is the lesson we always warn our children about, that is, wolves in sheep "online" clothing. And when something seems too good to be true (to be trusted, to be embraced, to be reciprocated, and to behold), it often is - full stop. It is when we add a careless comma to a deceptive line and allow it to bloom into a menacing paragraph, and thereafter, a conniving narrative, that we fall into our own fabled-trap of untold misery.

I guess in general, the Internet infantilizes all of us; regardless of age, culture and race. Our guard is usually down (and our discernment blunted) when what is superficial is being projected and packaged to us as profound, beautiful, trustworthy, authentic and embraceable. Vices are made to look like virtues by a crafted projection of sincerity, compassion and kindness.

In cyberspace, behind the covers of anonymity, where communication is done not face-to-face (literally), but by busy fingers on the keyboard before an impersonal screen, one tends to be more credulous (gullible) with praises, likes and compliments mindlessly offered by another for a devious self-serving purpose. 

Somehow, when one is feeling down and alienated, it is easy to escape (just one or two buttons away) to cyberspace to find acceptance, endorsement, humour, hope, faith and love on the go. It is a fantasy world to make all your worries go away just for that one or two hours, if not more. It is the perfect cocomo getaway in the comfort of your own private bedroom.

The Internet is thus our new therapist by the couch, and it leads us by the hand into the garden path of our emotional and psychological Eden.

In other words, the Internet makes us all vulnerable, because we can always find a (so-called) kinder, happier, warmer and better world there, which is just a quick click of the finger away. Let your fingers do the escaping - so to speak.

But whether we come to our senses or not, it is not reality. The internet is not reality. The millions of people in the net are not your friends. They are not there for you. On the contrary, they just happen to be there when you are most vulnerable. Timing is everything, and there is enough perverts out there to turn coincidences into self-perceived perfect timing to give the troubled mind the impression of specialness and exclusivity. Ultimately, they are not better than the one you are living with because they don't know you and you don't know them enough for that kind of intimacy, trust and relationship.

Mutual ignorance may be what blind dates are based on, but it is a recipe for disaster when you somehow start to believe that the man in the Internet you hardly know understands you, cares for you and devotes to you more than your loved ones and family do. For him, it is a matter of random luck; but to you, he is godsend - perfect timing.

Alas, our reality is where we need to focus on, develop, nurture, fight for, and improve on. And if you are looking for authenticity, trust and love, then you should commit to another for a lifetime rather than go fishing for thousands (of strangers) in cyberspace that neither know you nor are interested to know you.

Let me end by saying that if home is where the heart is, then our home is in a place where we meet daily, feel each other's touch, embrace regularly, share tears with, argue our differences with, and make peace with through face-to-face resolution.

Home is definitely not a place where we sit in front of a screen to listen to a smooth voice we hardly know reading out a slick script meant for whomever is willing to be charmed by it just so that we can feel good about ourselves. Our real world is in the one we have committed our life to, devoted our time and passion in, and not one that comes up in a rectangular screen by a plug of a cable.

At the end of the day, the heart of a home is where we grow together in hope, love and trust over the years, and not in the mindless, faceless and effortless endorsement we get online over a few minutes of interaction before we become victims of empty, if not sinister, affection. Cheerz.

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