Our view: Good, bad of internet on full display once again


If you were still not convinced about the perils of social media and the tendency of people to share too much information with the rest of the world, the recent Facebook scandal should have you shaking in your boots.

Another recent story, however, illustrates the power of online information-sharing to change things for the better, or specifically, bring a long-sought suspect to justice.

But with that suspect’s arrest, there comes a whole new raft of ethical issues about how digital data can and should be used.

Bottom line: Be extremely mindful of the potential impact of your online activity.

First, the Facebook stuff.

We are continually fascinated by what people decide to share with their “friends.” We use the quotation marks because you just know some of your supposed buds are laughing at you — not with you — based on what they see online.

But it seems like some posters are totally oblivious to what should be obvious: People will use your social media posts to mock you.

That’s innocuous and juvenile, though, when compared to what state Attorney General Josh Shapiro recently announced. His office has determined nearly 3 million Pennsylvanians’ Facebook data was shared with third parties like the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica.

What happened to your information once it got to those third parties?

We seriously doubt anyone knows entirely for sure. But we are sure once there is a breach, you are vulnerable.

No wonder a “Delete Facebook” campaign started gaining steam.

Right after the Facebook scandal, a huge story broke in California about the arrest of the so-called Golden State Killer after more than 40 years of searching.

Joseph DeAngelo has been charged with 12 murders and is suspected in more than 50 rapes and over 100 burglaries that took place from the mid-1970s through mid-1980s.

DeAngelo, despite his prolific crimes, was not on any lawman’s radar until recently thanks to a distant relative who uploaded DNA to a genealogy website.

Police had the DNA of the killer for years; they just didn’t know who it belonged to. But via a new technique, they used the DNA profiles that people had made available on websites to find one that was similar (the distant relative’s) and then eventually narrowed their search to DeAngelo.

They got the exact match they were looking for when the suspect discarded something in public, police retrieved it, and they tested it against the DNA they had from crime scenes.

Some experts are saying the same technique could be used to solve many other cold cases.

But privacy advocates are concerned about the ramifications. The millions of DNA profiles uploaded to these sites — some of which are accessible to anyone with a computer — was in a quest to find ancestors. People had no idea police would be searching through them.

We could all agree catching an alleged killer and rapist is a good thing.

But as the ACLU pointed out, do you want police and possibly random strangers combing through your DNA to create specific physical and mental profiles?

This all leads us back to our original point about being very careful.

We all have the impulse at times to share part of ourselves with others, and the internet or social media are the perfect platforms to do that.

But remember, once you hit the “send” button, there’s no going back.

You might have the best of intentions, but there’s a good chance someone out there does not.

— Times Leader