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The New Internet Rule of Thumb: Don’t Visit Sites Your Mom Wouldn’t Want You to See

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An old Chinese proverb says: “There is only one beautiful child in the world, and every mother has it.” But there are times when people test that mother-child connection, turning their “matron” saints into judge, jury and even warden. Increasingly, various stripes of online scoundrel can act as a catalyst for the above trial.

As we all know, despite that spiel about unconditional love, there is no end of things a son or daughter can do to fall out of a mother’s good graces. Forget about helicopter moms or even PTA meeting attendees turned stalkers on their progeny’s social media accounts. Really, it’s most mothers. After all, what mom wants to find out (along with her friends, neighbors and the rest of the world) that she’s raised the second coming of Attila the Hun, Catherine the Great or the Marquis de Sade?

Increasingly, bad online hygiene coupled with bad luck exposes a fair amount of bad behavior. Hackers make it happen, and mothers cry about it. But, most importantly, if you are serious about not getting got, much of this particular kind of trouble is avoidable.

Any number of recent hacks have evoked that face-palm moment where one can almost feel the simultaneous shudder of mothers everywhere. These hacks were not always the kind associated with groups like Anonymous, or featured on sites like Wikileaks, (though hacktivism has no doubt visited many a sleepless night upon the world’s mothers).

Sometimes, the “big reveal” takes the form of a borderline hack: that impulsive mouse click that turns a Facebook timeline into a proclamation of neurosis (“Find out how to see who viewed your profile”; “See your top 10 profile peekers here!”; “Check if a friend has deleted you”) or a little celebrity-obsessed voyeurism (“Rihanna’s sex tape with her boyfriend”; “Morgan Freeman Is Dead”; “OMG! I Can’t Believe That Miley Cyrus Can Do This!”). Then there is the garden-variety porn habit. The Guardian reported that in just two days more than 110,000 Facebook users fell for a Trojan Horse attack via the promise of a pornographic video in early 2015. (And of course it’s old news that men fall for Facebook scams more than women do.) The aim is to expose people’s transgressions to the public and get others to transgress in the same way.

The meeting point for hackers and mothers is like a mirror. The outward-bound reflection is where they intersect. Both are interested in what is revealed by a hack or sneak attack, but for the opposite reason. One wants to expose someone or something, and the other wants desperately for that target not to be exposed. And yes, to be clear, I’m talking here about things most people try to keep under wraps, whether said cover takes the form of inter-executive suite communications, a white hood and robe or no-tell motel sheets depends on the mother (and the hacker).

The fact is, moms want to believe the best of their children.They are hardwired idealists. So are hacktivists, depending on who you ask.

The Ashley Madison data breach was not hacktivism per se, but one such hack-tacular incident that ignited a media frenzy and no doubt plenty of maternal agita. In July 2015, a group calling themselves “The Impact Team” stole the user information of the Ashley Madison website, an Internet destination for people interested in having an extramarital affair. They then made this information public. While the number of mothers who aren’t fans of their kids’ chosen mates probably verges on something akin to the infinite, the shame factor weighs as much as any joyous expectations of divorce and a better choice next time.

Given the downside presented by the above predicament of an always potentially transparent online world, what should one do?

Follow this rule: behave yourself. Don’t hide under cover of an easily discoverable alias. Don’t visit websites that promote hate. You can’t be caught belonging to a publicly reviled organization if you don’t belong to one, and you can’t be called out as a criminal or a bully or a pervert if you aren’t one. (At least not for long—the truth in the digital world is fairly black and white; or at least binary.)

I know it doesn’t sound like much fun, but our online lives need to be conducted as though we have a very strict mother. Pretend you still have a curfew, and there’s nothing you can get past your mom, because with hackers everywhere, there isn’t.

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