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The interface between homicide and the Internet. A classification

It has been argued that the Internet presents numerous new opportunities for crime, including homicide. So far, empirical scholarly research in this domain is rather limited. In order to discover how perpetrators have used the Internet in the homicides they have committed, we conducted an international newspaper search (2006–2017).

Author
Marieke Liem & Max Geelen
Date
21 August 2019
Links
Science Direct 'Aggression and Violent Behavior'

Based on this analysis, we identify five distinct types of Internet use in homicides, namely Internet as an encyclopedia, Internet as a platform, Internet as a trigger, Internet as a market place, and Internet as a meeting place. Our findings indicate that these types do not significantly differ from key characteristics of homicides in general to the degree that they constitute unique forms of homicide. Rather, Internet-related homicides constitute a replication, or facilitation of already existing forms of homicide assisted through new technological means.

Introduction

Over the last decades, the Internet has been increasingly implicated in a growing number of violent crimes, ranging from homicide and assisted suicide, to sex offences, gang violence, and even cannibalism (e.g. Bryce, 2010Patton, Eschmann, & Butler, 2013Wykes, 2010Yardley & Wilson, 2015). Noteworthy examples include cases as those of Philip Markoff, also known as the ‘Craigslist killer’ due to his alleged method of finding of victims on the popular classified advertisements website Craigslist, and Armin Meiwes, the infamous Rotenburg cannibal, who achieved international notoriety for killing and consuming a voluntary victim whom he had met by way of the Internet.

Such examples of seemingly ‘Internet-related’ offences have since triggered numerous debates on the connection between the ‘digital’ realm and criminal behavior in the actual physical world. Central to these debates lies the question of whether or not the Internet generates specific opportunities for new types of criminal activity. Similar discussions have arisen within the academic community, resulting in a growing body of literature on the transformative impact of the Internet on criminal behavior (Jewkes, 2007King, Walpole, & Lamon, 2007Wall, 2005Yar, 2005). Collectively, this literature has led to the emergence of an entirely new field of criminological study, known as ‘Cyber Criminology’ (Jaishankar, 2007).

While these developments have since done much to advance our understanding of cybercrime, significant obstacles for its study remain. Within the field, definitional disagreements between criminologists have resulted in a wide variation of perspectives on the impact of the Internet on criminal behavior, ranging from considering Internet as an alternate social space where new types of criminality materialize (Capeller, 2001), to skepticism on whether distinctive Internet-related offences exist at all (Grabosky, 2001; Maguire 2012; Yardley & Wilson, 2015). This is further complicated by a substantial lack of empirical data on the prevalence, nature, and extent of certain online offences, making it almost impossible to come to some kind of consensual conceptualization and/or theoretical advancements (Diamond & Bachmann, 2015Ngo & Jaishankar, 2017Wall, 2001).

This study seeks to address the current empirical gap in academic literature by studying the ways in which perpetrators have used the Internet in the homicides they have committed. Whilst we acknowledge that a range of criminal behaviors may be associated with the use and widespread availability of the Internet, in this contribution we focus on one particular type of crime: homicide, as – in contrast to other types of crime – it is the most readily measurable and clearly defined form of criminal offence (UNODC 2014). Towards this purpose, an international newspaper search was conducted. Based on this analysis, we identify and describe six categories of Internet homicides, their characteristics, patterns, and common traits.

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