In her research in Ghana, Burrell encountered a number of young non-elite Ghanaians pursuing another approach to the Internet’s promise of prosperity: online scamming.
The most familiar example may be the so-called “419” email scam.
These youth, disillusioned with the possibility of forging authentic connections with foreigners, instead sought attention through misrepresentation; their Internet scams demonstrating increasingly clever strategies of social engineering.
For the youth of the West African nation of Ghana, a country on the margins of the global economy, the growth of the Internet in the 1990s was full of promise — the promise of sharing in the prosperity of the information age, and of forging meaningful connections with the rest of the world, politically, economically, and socially.
But when Internet connectivity finally arrived after the turn of the 21st century, many of these optimistic youth struggled to form connections with the foreigners they encountered online.
More widespread Internet access didn’t become available until the early 2000s.” As a result, subcultures of the Internet and ‘netiquette’ — rules and expectations about how to relate to people online — developed in the US in the 1990s and were cemented before most Ghanaians ever encountered the Internet.
“Once ordinary Ghanaians began coming online, they were coming into an already organized and formed subculture, not knowing what the rules were,” Burrell explained.
In the classic 419 email, the author claims to be a wealthy former member of the corrupt Nigerian government needing to quickly transfer money out of the country, and the email recipient is asked to make their bank account available for the money transfer in exchange for a hefty percentage of the gain.