Crime has the implication of any behaviour, act, or idea that is perceived to be wrong in a given society. It is important to include the element of society because, what can be termed as crime in one area may not be termed as such in another area (APA 2004). Different authors, academicians and law enforcers have since time immemorial tried hard to research on the causes of crime in order to help deter, treat or even punish offenders. According to Allport (2007), several theories have been advanced to explain why individuals commit crime. They include the following:
- Deterrence along with Rationale Choice Theories
- Biological Theories
- Psychological Theories
- Social Learning Theory
- Social Bonding & Control Theories
- Social Disorganization, Anomie, plus Strain Theories
- Conflict Theory
- Marxist and Critical Theories
- Feminist Theories.
Nevertheless to mention, this is not exhaustive. Everyday scholars continue coming up with new theories to explain this phenomenal (Allport 2007). Based on this background we can say that, crime is a complex phenomenal that can not be explained fully by a single theory. This is because crime can involve one disturbed individual (Timothy McVeigh and Jeffrey Dahmer the Cannibal) as well as savage violence (The BTK Killer, Charles Manson etc) or even sophisticated white collar crimes (World Com, Tyco and etc). Digital crime can be attributed to white collar crimes (Allport, 2007).
Social Learning Theory
This theory was put forward by modern psychologists. It proposes that both conforming and criminal behavior can be acquired, maintained, or even changed by social interaction processes with other members in the society (APA, 2004). The only differentiating factor lies in the degree of conforming, deviance and or balance of the social factors like attitudes, reinforcement, imitation, deterrence and etc. For a long time, social learning theory has gained acceptance in many fields of application. It has been applied in the field of psychology, sociology, criminal justice and etc to explain how criminal ideas, values, expressions and even methods are transferred from one person to the other (Lombardo, et al., 2003).
Among all the theories mentioned above, social learning theory is the one that has been considered to explain the cause of digital crime. This is because no one is borne an expert in Information Technologies (IT). A criminal who commits digital crimes is considered to be a well learned person in IT. This knowledge, skills and experience are phenomenal which an individual acquires as he grows up in a given social set up. He may not be taught directly as to how to be a digital criminal. The informers for example teachers, teach the criminal with good intention about the use of knowledge for self and society benefit as a whole. The decision to use this knowledge to perpetuate crime develops in an individual based on several factors with time and continued interaction with the social surroundings (Lombardo et al 2003).
Digital crime is attributed to several factors including the following;
- Social pressure
- Archaic laws which offer little to curb cyber crime
- Peer pressure
- Lack of adequate deterring measures among others
From this list it is evident that most of these factors are inherent in a social set up that a person is brought up in. This further supports the argument that social learning theory is the most relevant theory in attempting to explain the cause of digital crime.
A good example of a crime that is believed to have been committed and can be explained by social learning theory; is that of two teenage boys at Columbine High School in Colorado USA. The two students took guns and massacred at least 15 fellow students in the School located at Colorado in 1999! Following this incident the media was attracted the attention of many people who sort to give their opinions of the proceedings resulting to the students involvement in such heinous and inhuman act. Some people attributed the acts to social factors like insufficient practices of parenting in addition to the high rate of violence evidenced in USA media. On the other hand, some people believed that the boys must have been mentally unwell as indicated in APA “Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (APA 2004). They argued that, lack of capacity to come up with accountable judgments was ultimately impaired, an action attributed to substance abuse.
According to majority of theorists, nature is entangled to nurture and consequently, it poses significant effects on aspects of individual emotion, behavior, as well as cognition. (Lombardo, et al., 2003). Another example that can be attributed to social learning theory is assembling of dangerous compounds like chemical bombs. This is perpetuated by individuals who have sophisticated knowledge in chemical engineering. It is only through learning and mastering their environments or social set ups that these criminals acquire such knowledge which they decide to use later for their own selfish interests.
In conclusion we can say that Social learning theory may not offer a comprehensive answer as to why criminals commit digital crimes; but it forms a firm foundation from which we can understand this disturbing phenomenal. As such future scientists, scholars, administrators, psychologists and etc have a lot to research on crime in general and digital crime in particular.
Allport, G. W., (2007). Crime: A Psychological interpretation 2nd Ed. N Y: Holt, Rinehart & Winston Publishers.
American Psychiatric Association, (APA), (2004). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental Disorders 4th Ed. Washington.
Lombardo, et al., (2003). The concept of personality in 20th C American psychology. NY: Putnam Publishers.