Sunday, June 19, 2011

Little Brother is watching.

If there is a light at the end of the tunnel on this Vancouver riots thing (I know, I know, we all just want to see the issue go away, so I'll keep this short), it is how social media has 'adjusted' the outcome. I've been reading about rioters taking part in the cleanup, confessing their involvement, and turning themselves in, and others outed by their parents or other people on the special websites set up to identify them. I heard an 'expert' ( so of course we can trust her opinion) say that the Facebook outings amounted to vigilante justice.

There's a fine line. If we were not only outing the rioters, but also showing up on their doorsteps to drag them out in the street and beat them, then yes, I would agree it's vigilante justice. In this case, though I think it is an example of the best the internet has to offer. Here are kids (and most of them seem to be kids) coming clean because they have to. Some are choosing to be tried as adults so they can face their responsibilities, and others are forced into it kicking and screaming, but they are coming to justice, and that's a good thing.

If it were my son who had done the damage, and I had identified him on a FB picture, or anyone else had, then I would march them right out to the police station. The first reason is that I would want them to take responsibility for their actions in the same way that I would want them to at 9 years old after breaking a neighbour's window with a baseball. The second is that as a parent, I am legally (and morally) responsible for their actions, and not to do so would be a telling judgment on my parenting.

What is even more important, though, is the example this sets for the future. I panic when I think of a big-brother type police state, with people unable to protest or speak about human rights, or to have their opinions heard. I am the first person to decry state owned cameras everywhere like they have in the UK. Lets face it, this was a mild riot compared to other cities, where thousands are trampled and dozens killed. This was a few people injured and some property damage. What I'm saying is I see potential in this type of memetic, dispersed public self-regulation. This is not big brother, it's little brother. It's people watching other people as benignly as possible with cell phones. If nothing had been done wrong, this information would not be catalogued into Police databases, nor into some sort of bureaucracy, it would be erased and forgotten.

I guess what will be telling in the future, is what individuals do with this. With hundreds of cell phones watching, is a hooligan going to put a hammer through the window of a store, or are they going to pause, and put the hammer down? Hopefully the latter.

There will always be crime. I just hope that with less people practicing violence, less others will be 'caught up' in it, and this type of riot, for no reason, I must stress, will hopefully not happen. It marks the first step forward in a sort of uneasy truce between people and ... well ... people, without having to go all Big Brother. My fingers are crossed.

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