Following the Canucks’ Stanley Cup loss, rioters in downtown Vancouver cost the city an estimated $5 million in damages. In response to the destruction, many citizens turned to the Internet as a method to publicly shame those involved.
The high-minded and morally righteous intentions of these residents, such as those on the site “Public Shaming Eternus,” quickly degenerated into an online free-for-all.
The Toronto Star reported that one of the rioters targeted by the site had his address, phone number and other personal information shared. Following threats, his family was forced to flee their home.
Ironically, an astonishing display of civilian justice turned into a vicious mob, similar to riots that followed Game Seven. While the natural reaction to crime is the doling out of swift justice, the shaming websites meant vigilantism escalated to new heights.
While public shaming can be satisfying, it’s the professionals of the police force that are best suited to handle lawbreakers. Untrained civilians lack the tact, skill and restraint that police officers are instructed in.
There’s also no process for citizen vigilantes to follow when enforcing the law. This is concerning when a false accusation can permanently harm someone’s reputation. A photograph that depicts someone in a negative light can deal severe damage, regardless of its accuracy. Perspective and context are everything.
Along with shaming sites, social media had a large part to play in the fallout of the incident. A reported one million photos and 1,000 hours of video depicting the riots have been sent in to the Vancouver police force to aid in investigations. The massive collection has been a boon for police.
As digital technology becomes increasingly intertwined with society, we’re entering a period of hyper-accountability. Looters and rioters have found themselves captured thousands of times and there’s little hope of their identities remaining hidden within a massive crowd. Those who committed theft or acts of violence and assumed impunity have found themselves being pored over by police.
Social media has evolved into an information-gathering tool and is an extension of our identity. When almost every person carries a phone and almost every phone has a camera, anonymity doesn’t seem possible in public. It’s a reality that’s helpful for public order but troublesome for personal privacy.
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