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When COURTESY can be a deadly sin


One of the ‘Seven Deadly Cyber Sins’ which Professor Alan Woodward lists is Courtesy. Which is interesting since Courtesy would not normally be regarded as a Deadly Sin, quite the opposite. In truth, in the vast majority of cases, Courtesy would tend to be seen as a very good thing indeed – treating others with respect and decency and as we would wish to be treated ourselves. In all likelihood, it’s one of the core values that our parents tried to instil in us, and we in turn try to instil in our own children, should we have them. And it’s probably reasonable to argue that there aren’t many among us who would say ‘No, I’d rather be treated rudely and contemptuously by someone else’. ‘Manners maketh man’, after all.

So why does it feature in the list? Well, in the online world, just as in the real world, not everyone we come into contact with is actually who they say they are; nor are their intentions necessarily entirely in line with how they may describe them (for example, analysis suggest that 8% or more – some suggest even as many as a third - of all social media profiles may be fake[1]; over a quarter of people on some online dating sites may be scammers[2]; and more than half of online dating profiles contain some lies[3]). In the actual world, humans have developed quite sophisticated ‘antennae’ that arouse our suspicions when something doesn’t ‘feel quite right’, based on how other people act and behave during an interaction, their body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. But obviously, when interacting online, and with a significant reliance on written communication, there is far less of this extraneous information for our antennae and detection systems to work on, and we are more likely to take things at face value. And our desire to behave with Courtesy reinforces this, because it makes us less likely to question and scrutinize what is being said, and treat it with the appropriate degree of suspicion and circumspection, in case we appear rude. As a result, Courtesy is increasing our online vulnerability, and helping the Cyber criminals who want to take advantage of us.

The antidote to this is not discourtesy or rudeness, however. Rather it is a healthy degree of caution and wariness in all our online activities, and a willingness to question and consider carefully what is being presented to us, rather than accept it uncritically. Ultimately, this comes back to us all having a greater awareness of the realities of the online world, and the risks and threats that come with this; where – unfortunately - not everyone is who they say or what they seem.


  1. Australian Cyber Security Centre, Stay Smart Online, 13/07/17, ‘Fake social media profiles on the Rise’ []

  2. Zerofox, 23/04/19, ‘Can You Find the Fake?’ []

  3. Federal Trade Commission, 25/09/19, ‘FTC Sues Owner of Online Dating Service for Using Fake Love Interest Ads To Trick Consumers into Paying for a Subscription’ []

  4. Psychology Today, 06/09/16, ‘The Ugly Truth About Online Dating’ []


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