With Cameraphones, Scorn Is Just A Snap Away
from the crowd-rule dept
As the internet allows for the rapid diffusion of information and easy coordination of large groups of individuals, a rise in vigilantism seems inevitable. We saw this last year when Digg users helped to drive a sleazy online photo store offline. In New York, one site has been set up exclusively to publicly shame men who expose themselves to women. The ubiquity of cameraphones helps this task immensely, as women can instantly snap pictures of offending creeps, and send them to the site. While the threat of being exposed (no pun intended) on the internet may serve as a powerful deterrent for would be flashers, there are some problems with this kind of justice. One worrisome aspect of vigilantism isn’t the outcome per se, but the fact that targets of it are afforded none of the due process to which they’d be entitled under the courts. If a picture misrepresents a situation, or if a person’s name is wrongly associated with a blurry photo, there’s almost no way for them to get recourse. At least if a court makes a mistake the ruling can be reversed. It would seem that attacking someone’s character or business online shouldn’t be completely without cost should the accusations prove baseless. Furthermore, while nobody has any tolerance for flashers, what do we do with regards to other kinds of behavior that people would like to keep private. Would it be ok if a group posted pictures of anyone who entered into an adult bookstore, or, to use an example from the above article, an abortion clinic? Though these questions are complex, and raise many legal and ethical questions, much of this debate has been anticipated in discussions of sousveillance. If technology seems bound to erode privacy, then perhaps the next best situation state is one in which everyone can watch everyone else. This includes the right of individuals to watch the state, making abuses of power more difficult. Unfortunately, discussions of sousveillance seem to have an element of utopianism to them. In the real world, reputations can be unfairly destroyed, and some things are worth keeping private.