Being here in Australia, I didn't pay too much attention to the Vancouver riots after the NHL finals loss of their local team until I read about the role that social media played in the events of that day on Stephen Downes' OLDaily. His links got me interested, and over the last few days I've followed numerous other links and sought to make some sense of the vast array of views and counter-views that are online. So, here are some tenuous thoughts...
In an age where we are concerned about privacy and the role that closed circuit video has in our society for catching wrong doers, it is ironic that people think nothing of the potential surveillance in people's hands and pockets in the form of their smartphones. So, when things swung out of control in Vancouver, those "caught up in the moment" never considered that their actions captured and uploaded to the web might come back to bite them on the backside. One of the sites that Stephen points to is run by Captain Vancouver, who combines the actions of naming and shaming real people behind the protection of an online alias. Here, commenters sway between admiration for this new form of online accountability or the reviling of an online vigilante squad caught up in their own moment of "seeking justice". I'm still not sure where I sit because some of the actions of those participating were so moronic and lacking in any moral fibre that seeing some form of justice dished out seems to be perfectly defensible. But then the comments take their own dark turn and the Captain's intents are being hijacked by others and turned into racist, misogynist, homophobic attacks that undermine the moral high ground that the site's owner wants to be able to maintain.
In a lot of ways, the rioters who posted about their own antics on Facebook and Twitter have messed in their own nest, and are reaping the consequences in more ways than they ever could have anticipated. It is a fascinating insight into mob human behaviour. People behaved as if they were truly anonymous, unleashing their most inappropriate and hedonistic actions on property, public and private - and what I've viewed across the web, there is certainly no stereotypical rioter. In fact, most of the names and faces that crop with regularity seem to be bright, ordinary people - kids still at high school, people working for charities and university students. Did they fail to notice the array of mobile phones held high recording moments for posterity? Except posterity is now a Facebook profile, or a Twitpic link or a YouTube upload. And are the bystanders whose footage is now being used in the digital witchhunt just as guilty for standing by and being part of the rebellion? Or were they adopting the position of citizen journalists?
So the rioters had their fun, the police dispersed them eventually and the mainstream press filed their reports. But many net savvy citizens were very unhappy about the way that individuals had not only trashed their city but gleefully shared their antics for anyone in the world to see. So, the various shaming sites I mentioned before started to spring up. Some merely had the goal of posting clear pics of persons of interest asking if anyone recognising them to contact the Vancouver Police Department.
Just five days after the June 15 riot that plunged the Canadian city into three hours of chaos, police had received 3,500 e-mails that included 53 videos, 708 photographs and 1,011 hyperlinks to social media sites such as Facebook.
Now police have warned outraged residents to avoid using social media to exact vigilante justice. Authorities "are asking the public to resist the temptation to take justice into their own hands," the police said in a statement.
Others, like Captain Vancouver, decided that some meticulous research across varying forms of social media held to some personally defined standards would be the way to ensure that these everyday people were held to some form of justice. These sites weren't buying the "I was caught up in the moment" reasons offered by some identified and also felt that the court system would merely give out a "slap on the wrist" for anyone who was arrested anyway. But there is always the risk of getting the facts wrong, as the police found out.
So, maybe not quite uberveillance but another cross-pollination of mobile devices combined with social media mixed in with old fashioned mob rule produces results that spiral and viral way beyond the control of any individual whose profile can be matched. I mean, what are the odds of wearing the same outfit when stealing from a store as on your social media profile? And someone is ready to mix and match the whole concoction together in another example of internet remix interactivity.