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It tells the story of an 18th Century highwayman who rides the roads at night to rob travellers. This study aims to further this path of inquiry by investigating whether the advancement of the cyber-organised crime narrative in the UK can be identified also in the media discourse. Other researchers are more critical in applying the OC label to cybercrimes Wall , ; Lusthaus ; Lavorgna , ; Leukfeldt et al. These debates on the use of the OC label are not merely speculative and scholastic but have a real practical significance.

As effectively summarised by Ashby , over-estimating OC involvement in a crime can attract more resources and additional legal powers, and can make it easier to attract support from politicians, the general public and the media. Recent research has already showed how European and international organisations and policy-makers have relied on pairing cybercrime with OC as a way to justify the prioritisation and expansion of intelligence and law-enforcement activities in the domain of counter-OC efforts Lavorgna , and to lift cybercrime into the national security agenda in the UK Lavorgna and Sergi This study aims to further this path of inquiry by investigating whether the advancement of the cyber-OC narrative can be identified also in the media discourse.

While the findings of this study cannot be generalised to other countries as media dynamics could be different, the issue investigated is likely to be relevant also beyond the UK, considering that the cyber-OC pairing has also been used in international and transnational policy making Lavorgna , and this use is in line with previously studied expansions of counter-OC efforts through policy constructions and securitisation attempts Carrapico A small caveat is needed.


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In doing so, however, it implies that public and official anxieties are without substance or justification Waddington ; Thibodeaux This contribution does not intend to deny the criminogenic nature of cyberspace, nor minimise the understandable fears of the general public. Rather, it aims to call for rigour in media representations and in policy-making, as the undeniable crime and security threats present online should not be overblown for private interests, with the risk of shifting the delicate balance between privacy and security in surveillance and policing.

Before moving to the core of this contribution, the following sections provide a concise overview of the main empirical, legal and theoretical problems in the use of the cyber-OC rhetoric, and of the relevant moral panics literature. While most academic studies focused on particularly serious forms of cybercrimes, such as those compromising data and financial security Birk et al.

Unfortunately, unequivocal evidence of the presence of OC online is so far missing, as most existing papers are based on hypothesis, on a limited number of case studies, or set extremely low standards for inclusions of different phenomena as OC which has been consistently criticised over the years by OC researchers, see for instance Paoli ; Hobbs ; Sergi see also Leukfeldt et al. While the existing literature suggests that it is likely that the criminogenic features of cyberspace are attractive to OC, there is currently no sufficient evidence that OC groups are morphing into online criminal networks.


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Rather, evidence suggests that many OC groups operating offline still need to rely on their established system of offline socio-economic opportunities for their criminal activities, with cyberspace mostly used in specific situations to facilitate communications and protect anonymity Lavorgna ; Leukfeldt et al. This is not to deny that some OC groups might be active also online, or that the situation might evolve and change in the near future.

However, it should be emphasised that, at least for the moment being, there is no conclusive evidence to claims that OC moved online. Many studies that used the OC rhetoric to describe criminal networks operating online expanded the notion of OC to cover a broad range of criminal phenomena occurring completely or partially in cyberspace. In doing so, they generally acknowledged that certain key characteristics of traditional OC groups need to be re-discussed when groups are operating in cyberspace.

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For instance, in the case of online criminal networks, traditional continuity between group size, length of association and organisation tend to be different McGuire ; Hutchings An additional problem is that many studies have been carried out by the cybercrime security industry, or are otherwise referring to data produced by it see Lavorgna With the cybercrime security industry rather than independent institutions producing most of the available statistics and reports on cybercrime, however, there are fewer checks on the quality of the data gathered, which can result in misinformation and in the perpetration of false myths Wall ; Steinmetz As noted in prior research Lusthaus ; Leukfeldt et al.

In addition, the fluidity of the networks entails that, even when a division of roles can be identified, members of the network are easily replaceable should they be arrested. Other networks might be more structured but they lack any role of governance in cyberspace. Only a few groups have been showing some more or less successful attempts to take over roles played by traditional OC groups in regulating and controlling the production and distribution of products and services, first and foremost in certain online trading forums: administrators and moderators can provide a certain degree of third-party enforcement over transactions and regulate the access to the forum.

However, contrary than in the physical world, they cannot prevent people to try, for example, to access the forum with another name Lusthaus The broader academic empirical research looking in particular at hacking, phishing and malware attacks that examined network ties between actors involved in various forms of cybercrime is consistent with these findings, and suggests that criminal groups are well connected to one another but in a very fluid way: individuals often participate in multiple groups without a clear sense of affiliation or belonging, with their networks extending well beyond their crime associates; in addition, the circulation rate of members is very high Holt et al.

Recent studies focusing on the origin, growth and criminal capabilities of cybercriminal networks see, for instance, Leukfeldt et al. As in the offline world, existing empirical evidence points in the direction that in cyberspace different networks with different degree of sophistications are involved.

Assuming characteristics of the offenders involved as a proxy for the seriousness of the offence is always problematic Sergi Of course, this caution in using the OC narrative does not intend to deny the seriousness of many cybercrimes, nor dispute the fact that certain OC groups have moved or might increasingly move into online businesses while new criminal groups with OC features are or might increasingly be active in cyberspace.

Legal definitions of OC are very different from one another and generally depend on the characteristics of the criminal phenomena as experienced in different countries Finckenauer ; Calderoni ; Lavorgna and Sergi Many of these crimes do not meet the sentencing threshold of a minimum sentence requirement that must be met for a case to be labelled as OC see also Leukfeldt et al.

The concept of OC has a long-standing history, and over the years many conceptualisations and interpretations have been used to explain this criminal phenomenon. For a long time, OC has been conceptualised as an ethnic-based criminal endeavour such as in the case of the Italian and the Russian Mafias. This theory, largely criticised, still survives as a conceptual framework to explain the alleged ethnic homogeneity of certain OC groups Antonopoulos ; Smith Jr Being dissatisfied with this explanation of OC, some scholars started focusing on the economic origin of OC and the dynamics of criminal marketplaces.

The Enterprise Model proposed by D. Smith Jr. In the following decades, the vision of a Homo Economicus Criminalis McCarthy : 22 as a metaphor to enlighten the understanding of OC has become increasingly common. Author details to be added after peer review showed that this latter interpretation is prevalent in documents on cyber-OC produced by the major security and intelligence agencies and institutions at the European and international levels.

In addition, if we maintain the crime-enterprise narrative, we should expect criminals to be rationally geared towards efficiency; this efficiency is to be reached by relying on a minimum degree of organisation as needless complexity is ineffective for offenders Felson and Boba ; Ashby The ironic consequence would be that OC is bound to become marginalised in cyberspace, as less efficient. There is a background anxiety on cyberspace that has been increasingly pointed as a causal factor for many dramatic crimes and events, if only because in our hyper-connected world it is becoming more and more hard to imagine a crime that does not involve an online component.

Myths, however, are dangerous. As stressed by Wall , not only technological changes are very rapid and they can quickly mutate the reality of the problem, but they can also become self-perpetuating, hindering our understanding of change as it happens. Moral panics are identifiable objects onto which social anxieties can be projected Hier As clarified by Cohen himself , new moral panics continuously emerge and adapt in our postmodern world.

While moral panics can be driven bottom-up by local anxieties, they can be also deliberately elite-engineered for commercial or political gain Hall et al. Moral entrepreneurs can make a career out of spreading public alarm on a certain crime issue, advocating certain necessary reforms and measures to deal with it, and putting forward themselves as the right persons to deal with such an issue Philips In fact, while at the beginning moral panic served mainly to mark the connection between media and social control, it was soon recognised that media and political strategies are often strictly connected McRobbie and Thornton , as moral panics can serve to attract public attention on a specific issue and therefore force it onto the political agenda Garland In particular, they can allow to build infrastructures of regulation and control that can have lasting effects.

The vague concept of OC, as shown in previous research on the USA and the UK, has already been used by media and policy makers as a vehicle for passing new legislation to increase crime control powers and to promote specific types of crime control approaches in terms of drug policies, for example whose effectiveness is still debatable see the historical analysis of Woodiwiss and Hobbs Every moral panic has its own folk devil — i.

Garland added to this list the moral dimension of the social reaction, and the idea that the deviant conduct is somehow symptomatic of a bigger problem.

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This study focuses on newspaper articles published in the UK between January 1, and December 31, The dates were chosen to capture articles over a period sufficient to take into consideration possible changes in the representation of the issue. Articles were extracted from the database Lexis Nexis Academic , which is useful for press analyses as it provides full text access and allows searches by period, language, and type of source. Documents with less than words and documents with high similarity which suggests duplication of results were automatically excluded for a total of results.

The selected articles were then manually sorted out to exclude those non-relevant for the scope of this study. A total of press items were identified as relevant for the analysis. As already underlined by Weaver and Bimber among others, news aggregation databases such as Lexis Nexis have important limitations, which might hinder the accuracy of a study looking at the news distribution of a particular subject. In fact, they do not necessarily constitute archives of the whole content of news appearing, because of the exclusion of major wire services and major newspapers.

Nonetheless, Lexis Nexis Academic was chosen as a proper news aggregator for this exploratory analysis because of its powerful search capability and extensive coverage Center for Research Libraries The software NVivo was used for the computer-assisted content analysis. The use of NVivo allowed to obtain descriptive statistics of the different codes and sub-codes, offering comprehension of the recurrence of certain themes and topics in the press news analysed. Particularly, the number of references i.

Moreover, the codes and sub-codes were used to assist the qualitative part of the analysis, whose results are presented in the following section. Rather, the peak on news on cyber-OC was reached the following year 43 references. This code identifies the actors whose voice framed a cybercrime problem as OC.