The dark side of the Internet

The Internet can do a lot of helpful and amazing things, and like many people, I use it every day. I need the Internet for work. At home I can keep up with friends on Facebook, find the name of a character actor I saw in an old movie or refill a prescription.

But while the Internet is capable of entertaining, educating and making life easier, it’s not all sweetness and light. The Internet has a dark side, and that dark side can ruin lives.

A teenage girl is bullied on the Internet to the point she sees death as a better alternative. A young man loses out on his dream job because his future employer checks his online footprint and finds lewd and crude comments and photos. Another young man is dumped by his girlfriend. To retaliate, he posts nude photos of her, making her body accessible to anyone with a smartphone.

It’s true that sometimes the damage is self-inflicted. If you are a grown man and you decide to text a photo of your private parts to another person, you had better be prepared for anyone to see it, including your spouse, your boss, your mother and even your children.

But countless lives are ruined by the Internet through no fault of the individuals destroyed.

One such victim is Erin Andrews, a Fox sports reporter and co-host of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” In case you are unfamiliar with the situation, Andrews was in a hotel room in 2008, unaware that a man who had requested (and received) a room next to hers had altered the peephole in her door.

When she came out of the shower, the man stuck his phone up to the hole in the door and shot video of Andrews in the nude, which he quickly posted to the Internet, where it has been viewed by nearly 17 million people and will remain for as long as there’s an Internet.

The man, who said his motive was money, served only two years in prison. Andrews, on the other hand, is serving life without parole. She’s sued the stalker and the hotel owner. This week a jury awarded her $55 million, though no amount of money will ever buy her release from her prison.

Yes, a lot of women willingly pose nude these days. But this was not a paid model posing nude for a professional photographer. This was not even a teenage girl sending nude photos to her boyfriend. This was a woman taking a shower in what she thought was the privacy of her hotel room.

She stepped out of that shower clean, only to immediately have mud thrown all over her, mud that will stick for as long as she lives.

Her testimony in this civil suit was heartbreaking. She had to tell her parents, friends and employers that nude video of her was available for anyone to view. She’s seen her naked body on the cover of a newspaper, with bars covering her private parts. She’s had people accuse her of posting the video as a publicity stunt.

An attorney for the hotel owner even said the publicity surrounding the video has been good for her career, implying she really has nothing to complain about.

Nothing to complain about … right. She’s in therapy. Nearly every day someone tells her they’ve seen the video. Some of these people even make fun of her body, to her face. If she ever has children, one day those kids will know their mom is naked on the Internet. But right now she’s too afraid to even go out on a date.

Andrews is not special. Her case is in the news because she’s a TV personality, but this kind of thing happens to women, and probably men, all the time. People’s lives are ruined via the same Internet that gives us instant access to the weather radar.

We’re frequently warned that anything we post or say on the Internet could be seen or read by anyone, even our mothers. If we ignore this warning, we could pay a price.

Erin Andrews did not ignore this warning, because she didn’t post anything. Yet she will pay a huge price every day of her life.

Cyberspace is a dangerous neighborhood. The Internet can be our friend, but it can also turn on us, through no fault of our own, and eat us alive.

Watch your back.