The new (and sometimes disturbing) frontier

The good thing about the Web is the community it creates. It's the bad thing too, apparently.

Rogue Valley residents Bob and Mary Salisbury found that out over the weekend, when they got one of those stomach-turning calls: Is that online ad right when it says you want people to come to your property and take whatever they want? the caller asked.

It wasn't, of course. Bob Salisbury raced to the rural home to find people driving off with his family's belongings, plucked from the barn and porch. By his account, most refused to stop and give up their newfound possessions when he explained the situation.

For most of us, this story was a jaw-dropper. For all the care we take to put bicycles in the garage and lock the doors to the house at the end of the day, much of society still operates by the honor system, or close to it.

We trust thieves won't smash our windows and break into the house overnight. We trust people carrying hidden weapons won't suddenly pull them out and attack on the sidewalk. We may worry vaguely about terrorism, but we don't live in bomb shelters.

We get by on our ability to trust. But the Internet, for all the community it provides, also builds new avenues every day to damage our sense that other residents of the world are even remotely worthy of any faith we may place in them.

A follow-up story to Salisbury's in Tuesday's Mail Tribune told of a woman whose Washington home was stripped after a similar Craigslist ad, and of another who nearly rented a Hawaii beach house that didn't exist. The sheriff's office warned this week of another Internet-related scam. And who by now hasn't received a fraudulent e-mail request fishing for a credit card, bank account or Social Security number?

The people who ignored Bob Salisbury's weekend pleas to leave his possessions where they found them (or continue to hold onto them now because no one's the wiser) did something worse, in our view, than simply commit a crime: They helped this dismantling of the public's trust.

Maybe that's got its up side, because the truth about the Internet seems to be that there are plenty of people willing to take advantage of anyone who lets it happen. As the sheriff's office said in its alert about the tax scam, maliciousness on the Web is a "constant danger."

That's the reality of the Web and a sad comment on the new, more inclusive community the Internet is creating.

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