Posted: March 30th, 2022

Creating new possible realities and problems



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Cyberterrorism, illegal (and legal) espionage, piracy, and cybercrimes differ from their pre-digital counterparts in serious and meaningful ways. For one, the nature of online social interactions diverges from that of face-to-face or even voice-only interactions due to the shields of anonymity. Second, technological prophylactics ranging from encryption to skillful network architecture can add multiple levels of protection to shield perpetrators while exposing the weaknesses in a less advanced consumer public. Third, the rapid advancement of artificially intelligent systems creates new possible realities and problems, as non-human actors become part of increasingly complex systems. Finally, digital media has enabled formal and informal surveillance and other forms of illicit behavior, transforming the relationship between actors and objects in ways that could alter political and social realities. Actor-network theory is an ideal lens and process by which to better understand the complex gamut of cybercrime. Developed initially in the 1980s and solidified in the 1990s, actor-network theory views technology within a social science framework. With actor-network theory, technology and media are both viewed as extensions of social and cultural realities, which is why the theory can potentially offer solutions to the problems of cybercrime.




Theoretical Framework



Actor-network theory is an ideal framework for studying the causes, mechanisms, and ramifications of cybercrime, as well as offering potential solutions. The theory is “versatile and well-suited for dealing with the complex interplay of human-technological digital relationships,” (Lippicini, 2014, p. 38). Lin & Lippicini (2011) also point out that actor-network theory can be applied to small and closed networks as well as large and open ones. Perhaps most importantly, actor-network theory has the capacity to deal with the problematic issues related to artificial intelligence and the relationships between humans and non-human actors that frequently characterize cybercrimes and responses to cybercrime. Another reason why actor-network theory is an ideal framework for understanding cybercrime is its systemic approach, as the theory sheds light on the inextricable connections between various social structures, institutions, individuals, and identities. Moreover, actor-network theory touches upon a central issue in criminology and the sociology of crime: the issue of power. According to the premises of actor-network theory, all entities within any given network acquire power in several core but relatively stable ways: particularly through the “number, extensiveness, and stability of the connections routed through them, and through nothing else,” (Couldry, 2004, p. 1). Actor-network theory does not become boggled down by semiotics, and can offer instead pragmatic and practical solutions to problems like cybercrime. For instance, many of the most serious cybercrimes occur trans-nationally, and actor-network theory aids the development of cogent solutions to cyberterrorism, hacking, espionage, and other international events.




Review of Literature



A review of literature demonstrates how actor-network theory has already been applied to cybercrime and cybercriminality. Muller (2015) fuses the concept of assemblage and actor-network theory to provide a new approach to international relations that recognizes the centrality of digital networks. Digital networks, like all other social networks, possess an organic nature. When non-human entities are introduced, including artificially intelligent systems, the complexity of networks can complicate solutions to cybercrimes. Although actor-network theory “risks describing endless chains of associations without ever arriving at an explanation,” the theory does not oversimplify the issues related to cybercrime and cyberterrorism (Muller, 2015, p. 30). Muller’s (2015) analysis of actor-network theory as it applies to international relations and politics underscores the relevance of the theory as it applies to trans-national cybercrimes.




Lin & Lippicini (2014) apply actor-network theory directly to cybercrimes related to espionage. The authors note the fundamental ethical conundrums of cyberspace involve four main areas of concern: privacy, accuracy, property, and access (Lin & Lippicini, 2014). Using a case study of GhostNet, the authors show how an espionage enterprise violates ethical terms of privacy and access. Privacy is a presumed right in a democracy, whereas access refers more overtly to social structures and power negotiations. Access is a much-debated subject in the social science of technology; access to information related to protection from cybercrime is not as commonly discussed. Lin & Lippini (2014) also identify the main ways actor-network theory can be applied to cybercrimes, such as by focusing on the behaviors and perpetrators or on the technology itself. Therefore, the Lin & Lippicini (2014) study invites future research in this particular area of concern.




Lippicini (2014) examined dozens of articles in a type of meta-analysis and integrative review on research capitalizing on actor-network theory and cybercrime. The results reveal different ways actor-network theory can be applied to different cybercrimes including theft, fraud, terrorism, espionage, and bullying. Cybertheft was broadly interpreted to include piracy of copyrighted material as well as identity theft. Research illustrates some of the psychological variables that impact actor decisions to commit cybertheft, including the social contracts unique to file-sharing websites and online communities (Lippicini, 2014). Equally as complex as cybertheft is cyberbullying, which only on the surface resembles its in-person counterpart. As Lippicini (2014) puts it, cyberbullying is “a complex network too large and diffuse to attribute a single cause because there are multiple actors,” and the same can be said about cyberterrorism (p. 43).







Clearly cybercrime needs a different framework and methodology than traditional social science can allow, which is why actor-network theory supersedes traditional criminological theories in helping to explain cybercrime and offer solutions. Actor-network theory is dynamic, and applies to multiple systems within the same network, multiple networks within the same domain, and multiple cultures and heterogeneous societies. With a research question that focuses on cybercrime, it is important to focus on specific problems such as corporate espionage. Insofar as the law cannot keep pace with the rapid development of technology, actor-network theory can help inform company policies. Company policies can change more rapidly than public legislation. It may be critical to focus attention not on government interventions as solutions to cybercrime but on the private sector.




Private sector information technology enterprises can offer ideal solutions to cybercrimes of all types. By harnessing the power of actor-network theory, a private sector enterprise can envision each new specific issue within the dynamic framework of actor-network theory. Actor-network theory situates the solution squarely within the system itself, allowing for a robust approach to cybercriminality. Furthermore, actor-network theory allows each new problem presented to be understood fresh, without the burdens of prejudice and assumptions that pervade more absolutist, essentialist theories. Actor-network theory focuses on individual actors and players, including the variables like motivation, opportunity theory, rational choice theory, and other means of understanding why white collar cybercrimes might be relatively easy to commit.




Actor-network theory also presents each network as it is in any given point in time and space, taking into account historical and cultural communication variables that could otherwise be ignored. Thus, a cyberbullying case that occurs in India would be qualitatively different from one occurring in Denmark. Language and cultural communication are variables that impact the causes and solutions to the problems. The actors and the networks differ on critical levels, necessitating a fresh approach to solving and preventing cybercrimes each time.







Cybercrimes occur systemically, involving multiple complex and heterogeneous actors and victims. All crimes entail a relationship between perpetrator and victim. When viewed in light of critical communications theories like actor-network theory, cybercrime can be dealt with far more efficiently than it is currently using outmoded methods.




Actor-network theory can comprehensively and thoroughly deal with the multitude of concerns related to cybercrime. Actor-network theory addresses communication between various actors, the construction of internal logic, norms, and social mores, and the interplay between human and non-human actors. However, actor-network theory has only recently been applied to the study of international relations. Because of this, future research can focus on how trans-national cybercrimes can be solved without the encroachment on government entities, which are often perpetrators and parties to the crimes or victims. Cyberterrorism and corporate cybercrimes require complex solutions, and actor-network theory presents the means by which to generate possible solutions to problems like illicit espionage and cyberterrorism.

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