Profiling: Journalism 2.0

One of the funny things about the growing popularity of social media – particularly MySpace and Facebook – is the way the mainstream press is now relying on information gleaned from profiles to sensationalise their stories.

Every time a celebrity, athlete or multi-million dollar heiress gets a little bit of media coverage for something  the media are quick to delve into their online profiles for compelling pictures and anecdotal evidence to make the case against them.

The same goes for “alleged” arsonists. The name of the one man so far charged over the fires in Victoria has been released.

As soon as the name was released the muckrackers journalists in newsrooms around the country were no doubt scanning MySpace, Facebook and their ilk looking for information. Then you start getting stories like this. Based solely on reactions on the social networks. Then there’s this quote from the Daily Mail in the UK:

“Arson suspect Sokaluk is said to have worked as a gardener at Melbourne’s Monash University, but had lost his job amid rumoured mental health problems.

His page on a social website shows an uneducated man looking for love. Alongside a photo taken of himself in a mirror, Sokaluk writes: ‘Sex sells but love larst for ever.’

Writing about himself he says: ‘I’m a young happy male who wants to meet a young loven female to marrid.’

As to who he would like to meet, he writes: ‘Like to meet my sole mate not some old hag.’

He says his favourite TV shows are CSI, cops, documentaries and ‘histery’.”

No doubt all the spelling mistakes were included to show just how intelligent this guy is. Not very. Clearly. Here’s his MySpace profile. I hate MySpace. He also hates books. They put him to sleep.

Profiling – using ethnicity, assumptions based on the nature of a crime, and psychological profiles, to catch bad guys is one of those murky areas – it works, but it’s not politically correct. Particularly the ethnic profiling stuff.  But the profile of an arsonist I posted last week pretty much stacks up with what is in the public sphere about this guy. He even mentions Mother Nature, and is reported to have been rejected by the volunteer firefighters.

“My hero is mother earth  –  with out her we all would be dead.”

Death by firing squad

More than 100 people are now known to be dead due to these fires in southern Australia. They weren’t all deliberately lit, but some were.

I don’t understand the inner workings of the mind of an arsonist. That’s probably a good thing. I confess, I enjoy fire as much as the next pyromaniac. Scores of plastic soldiers can attest to that. But I do not understand how someone hears an extreme fire danger warning and decides to light a bunch of fires.

Here’s a study of the inner workings of an arsonists mind – and a “profile” of your average arsonist based on FBI cases…
Profile of an Arsonist
1. Have a below average IQ – somewhere between 70 and 90 points, one in four arsonists will fall below 70 points – the level at which people are considered mentally retarded.
2. They will often be “angry”.
3. Half of all arsons are committed by those younger than age 18; the other half is typically in their late 20s.
4.In arson cases involving older people, the motivation is usually for profit.
5. About 90% of arsonists are male.
6. Arsonists are are usually white (in the US).
7. If the arsonist is not angry there’s a fair chance they’re sexually aroused by fires.

Potential “red flags” to identify juvenile arsonists:

  • Children who start playing with matches or fire as early as age 3
  • Children who frequently engage in “daredevil” behavior, especially near fire
  • Children who mix chemicals or engage in “secret” fire settings in which they try different mixtures
  • Those who are noticeably excited while watching fires

Perhaps the media needs to reconsider broadcasting such warnings. There’s pretty much a blanket ban on reporting suicides in Australian news because of the fear of inspiring copycats. I wonder if the psyche of a clearly mentally unfit arsonist requires a similar level of protection. Perhaps a greater level given the harm they’re capable of causing.

There’s anecdotal evidence that arsonists are often members of the volunteer fire brigade – they use their training and knowledge to set the best possible fire, and then get to play around trying to put it out. That’s the mark of a sick mind.

The good news is that the perpetrators will face murder charges if caught.

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