Saturday, 18 June 2011

Virtual Vigilantism and Public Shaming

Last night I wrote a long and somewhat incoherent comment on my Let Your Inner Stasi Out post. (It was incoherent to the point that JJ thought I was calling her 'GoodyTwoShoes'!)

Clearly, I'm not done with the Vancouver hockey riot and its repercussions. And in particular, I am REALLY not done with witless comparisons of the Toronto G20 police riot and the Vancouver drunken idiot riot.

For background, some excellent analysis of events, one by Ivor Tossell, the other by Dave Zirin, both of whom emphatically crush the 'anarchist' and 'few bad apple' memes issuing from mini-minded MSM pundits.

For examples of MSM not getting it, there's Neil Macdonald, who at least admits he doesn't geddit [though why he's given umpty virtual column inches to say so is a mystery], and the sublimely idiotic Rex Murphy.

In the comments to Macdonald's piece, 'PinkoCommie' has already started the G20/G8 refrain of 'getoveritalready': 'Are we STILL talking about this? What are we, a hick country ??? Move along, lets hope this does not happen again.'

Yes. We are still talking about this. (Google 'Vancouver riot 2011' and you get over 22,000 hits of mostly moronic commentary.)

However embarrassed the citizens of magical, pristine Vancouver, BC, are, we in Toronto are still outraged at our treatment. And yes, there is yet another protest rally, G20 Redux, on the first anniversary, next Saturday, June 25. For all the fucking good these bunfests are doing. . .

Well, then, carry on MSM with your wittering, though I did find one bit of sense that the chattering classes might consider:
“This riot is not the result of one single factor,” said Prof. Gruneau. “It is an ensemble and certainly far too complicated to explain in a soundbite. At the very least to say that it had anything to do with hockey as a game leaves far too much out of the account.”

On to the repercussions, which I find truly frightening. (Note use of 'Stasi' in my blogpost title. Yes, I went there.)

To stave off accusations of hypocrisy, let me say upfront: Yes, I applauded the use of 'citizen journalism' at the Toronto G20 -- because it was used to provide evidence of abuse of authority by the police and their bosses. We here and many others, especially Dr. Dawg, have repeatedly catalogued the many many crimes by police that go unpunished, despite abundant video and photographic evidence. These are excellent examples of citizens' exercise of Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Because, clearly, the custodes are not custodieting themselves (sorry, Latin scholars, my ancient Grade 13 Latin isn't up to doing that properly).

What is now going on in Vancouver is not 'watching the watchmen'. It is virtual vigilantism.

Here is Christopher Parsons detailing the dangers in a post titled Vancouver's Human Flesh Search Engine.
During and following the riot, Vancouver Police Department (VPD) has requested that citizens provide photos and video of riotous behaviour so that the cops can conduct investigations and bring charges. Importantly (and responsibly) the VPD asked for images and video to be shared directly with them; they don’t want individuals publicly posting images and video. There are at least two reasons for this kind of request:

1. Preserving the chain of evidence. When you upload photos to Facebook, as an example, it strips the metadata off the images. As a result there is a more labor intensive process to verify the legitimacy and accuracy of images located on Facebook. I can guarantee that clever defence attorneys will point to a flawed chain of evidence stemming from lack of metadata information as reasons that social media-based imagery and videos should be disallowed from the courts.

2. Understanding the danger of the mob. The VPD clearly recognizes the potential harms that arise when a mob races off to identify and convict, in the court of public opinion, individuals who allegedly engaged in illegal behaviour. I say allegedly because even if an image shows a person seemingly lighting a car on fire, until the court has evaluated and verified the evidence, and the person in the image has a chance to defend themselves (or admit their guilt) they are allegedly guilty. This presumption of innocence before the courts, regardless of evidence that exists to ground a case, is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy and we should be mindful and respectful of it.

However, grandstanding pols are not responsible at all.

Here's an excerpt from B.C. Premier Christy Clark's open letter.
Citizens have also come together to create their own social media sites to share information about events and images of troublemakers captured on mobile phones. The police will monitor these sites closely as part of their efforts to gather evidence.

We will push for full justice. Collectively, we will do our best to bring those responsible to account. Criminal charges will be pursued wherever possible and appropriate.

If you are responsible, we will hold you responsible. Your family, friends and employers will know. We will ensure we have the resources to do this. You will not be able to hide behind your hoodie or your bandana.

Indeed, citizens have come together. Here's a Facebook group and, even more unsettling, a site devoted to public shaming.

Here's the site's rationale:
These young men and women IF they get prosecuted will most likely be given probation, perhaps fines, community service etc. If they do end up with a criminal record, they will also (if given a savvy enough lawyer) be able to have that black mark removed. At the end of it all, the consequences are minor.

Public shaming however reveals their faces, their names and ultimately has longer lasting effect. There are those who would say that our court system is for the public record to view. When was the last time the average person sat in on a trial and read court transcripts? They are all there for the viewing to see. Public shaming thru the use of social media and blogging shall place them into a world that is engraved into history. It shall be chiseled into the hard stone of the internet and last eternally.

When a person’s name is typed into google or any search engine, especially if they are relative nobody’s, they do pop up on the first page during the search. More and more of today’s employers are googling the names of the people who apply for jobs. I know when I run my company, I wouldn’t hire the people I saw rioting in the streets of my city. So if they show up in a search 5 years from now, let them explain in their job interview’s how they’ve “all grown up now”. Roll the dice and see if they still get the job.

Booya! Let's punish a drunken 18-year-old yob who posed in front of a broken window -- for the rest of his fucking life! That's the Canadian way. Isn't it?

Um. No. To quote again from Alexandra Samuel's excellent essay:
The fact that the police department itself is encouraging people to share their photos and videos privately should tell us a lot about the troubling territory social media users have wandered into. There is a reason that the state has been defined by its monopoly on the legitimate use of force: delegating law enforcement to professional police is a way of preventing vigilantism, ensuring due process and protecting civil rights.

Just as crucially, professional law enforcement protects a healthy civil society from the corrosive effects of citizen surveillance. When citizens take on the job of reporting on one another it can lead to some very dark places, very quickly. One of the most difficult revelations to emerge in the wake of German reunification was the sheer number of civilians who cooperated with the Stasi, East Germany’s notorious secret police. About 5% of East Germans were secret informants, a culture of crowdsourced surveillance that eroded social trust and perpetuated an authoritarian state.

Canada is NOT -- or was NOT -- a shame culture.

Unlike the Excited States, Canadians can't even get it up, so to speak, to give our sexually transgressing pols -- even when they richly deserve it -- the 'santorum treatment'.

But a bunch of self-righteous, embarrassed GoodyTwoShoed Vancouverites are ecstatically participating in ruining whoknowshowmany ordinary -- if stupid -- people's lives. It makes them feel good about themselves. Like returning a lost wallet, maybe.

Fuck you, GoodyTwoShoed Vancouverites.

And oh, yeah. Your team choked. As usual.


Luna said...

BRAVO! That is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I think that the city of Vancouver gets a big F- for their planning --- what was the crowd supposed to do after the game, win or lose, what was the directive? Go home? Dance? Watch movies on the big screen? Were there extra transit buses available to get to the train stations? If so, were there big signs and notices telling people how to get there? Were those buses free? The rabble-rousers would have had no crowd cover if the crowd had dispersed. They couldn't disperse because they really had no other option than to walk around downtown and see what came up.... I mean really, after an event of that size and emotional pitch, what was the crowd going to do??? Instead, we're left with online tattle taling and laments of how ashamed we are. It's basic event planning, my friends. Getting your guests home.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well Fern I disagree. Some of your perspectives seem well over the top. This isn't vigilantism. There are no mobs saddling up to capture miscreants and string them up from the nearest tree. Characterizing this in the matter is pure hyperbole.

Yes, if a kid smashes public property he's subject to being prosecuted. That's prosecuted, not persecuted. It's why we have laws Fern, laws that you unknowingly rely upon to keep you and your possessions safe every single day. If we don't prosecute crime what sort of society shall we have?

Sorry Fern but your perspective is truly skewed on this one. And the Stasi comparison? C'mon that's beneath you.

Beijing York said...

I think you're misreading this entry, MoS. Nobody is denying that those who committed crimes should be prosecuted (especially in contrast to what happened in Toronto where arrests were made just for participating in a protest). The police themselves recognize that they will have chain of command issues if people start posting and publicly identifying participants. That's why they requested that any such evidence be submitted to them directly.

I hate over-the-top knee jerk reactions and the dangerous precedents they set. I get that the citizens of Vancouver are shocked and embarrassed but this is being handled poorly. Provoking outrage, shaming and snitching does not serve anyone well in the long run. Also, it has served to tar legitimate protests and political activism. Finally, these "citizens non-arrests" detract from serious examination of how city officials and police handled events.

fern hill said...

Well, The Mound of Sound, I said 'virtual vigilantism'. I didn't say anybody was saddling up. Did I not talk about law, chain of evidence, civil rights?

But we're in uncharted waters here. Nobody knows what the effects of being forever identified as 'that guy with the hockey stick' about whom nothing can be proven will ultimately be. You want to be the person that IDs him?

Seems a lotta Vancouverites are itching for that bounty. Starting with the Premier herself.

So, The Mound of Sound, lets talk again in a few months or years when the ramifications of this orgy of competing to be the Good Vancouverite are better known.

Yeah, 'Good Vancouverite'. I went there too.

fern hill said...

@Anonymous. Police made mistakes says author of the report on the 1994 riot.

JJ said...

"And oh, yeah. Your team choked. As usual."

Something Leafs fans never have to worry about, their team choking in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. :p ;) :D

fern hill said...

Sadly true.

JJ has now opened the floor for Leaf jokes. Prizes for ones I haven't heard before.

k'in said...

What does Frankie Avalon have in common with the Toronto Maple Leafs?

They can't get anywhere with a net(te).

What do the Leafs & the Titantic have in common?

They both look pretty good until they hit the ice.

What do the Leafs have in common with university students>

They're both finished their year by April.

fern hill said...

I don't get the first one, k'in. Other two I've heard. No prizes for you. ;)

Anonymous said...

So what do you think of this in terms of public shaming? What if they proudly confessed their part in the riot? What then? BrockAnton anyone?

JJ said...

Well, full disclosure: I only became a Canucks fan when I moved out here, but I was born & raised in Toronto and never stopped being a Leafs fan. My dad was friends with several of the early-60s Leafs and they were always hanging around our house, partying (Eddie Shack was like an uncle to me). To say I bleed blue & white is a classic understatement. I own way more Leafs paraphernalia than Canucks: t-shirts, jerseys, caps, coffee cups, sweatpants, underwear, you name it. I tease because I love ;)

fern hill said...

@Anonymous: I have no problems with idiots identifying themselves.

@JJ: You lucky duck. *envious* Remember when kids played hockey and they picked somebody to be? I was Davey Keon. One the classiest hockey players ever.

My mother's people were farmers in cottage country. Her father sold land to a few hockey players and they'd congregate. As a kid, my mother knew Syl Apps, Turk Broda, others I can't remember at the moment. My uncle got scouted by the Leafs, before he lost an eye to a puck.

Ah, back when hockey players were regular people, not SooperStars.

Pseudz said...

Frankie Avalon, A nnet(te) Funicello, "Beach Blanket Bingo", Persistent focus on, and failure with, scoring.

fern hill said...

Thank you, Pseudz. (Don't you hate it when you have to have jokes explained to you?)

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