Wednesday, 25 August 2010
A Force for - good or evil?
Yesterday we saw a disturbing video of a middle-aged woman petting a cat and then throwing it—alive—into a trash bin. She is now under police protection. What happened between those two events? They were subjected to the force of the internet combining.
Often dismissed as little more than a gang of anonymous bullies, there is some truth to the notion that the site is simultaneously the best and worst of the internet, and that when they put their collective minds together, there is no stopping them. Sometimes they goof up, other times they emerge as victorious white knights on a quest from Ceiling Cat. Almost immediately after the video started making the internet rounds yesterday, the 4chan legion set out to find this woman and destroy her life.
I don't know exactly how long it took, but within a few hours she was identified as Mary Bale, 50, of Coventry (England). But there's more: they also found out where she worked. They posted the phone number and name of her boss. They found out where she lived, and posted a Google map of that address. They found her Facebook profile.
And because of what some suggested should be done with this info, the local police stepped in and helped her hide. Probably not a bad idea.
Just wondering what we might do with this sort of power - what about setting them the task of finding Osama Bin Laden. Nil result after 48 hours to be confirmation that the bstard is really dead. What I foresee is that a group somewhere, sometime and somehow will make their case that the ability to band together is evil and pronounce "it must be stopped". I do see a need for some form of control. Not on the tired example of free speech being associated with shouting FIRE in a crowded theatre but on the basis of responsibility. Considerable harm can come from some release of genuine information and it is the decision to release such detail that needs thought. There can be no safe assessment as to what might spark off vigilante action but we need ways to make information providers think deeper than they may do currently. Maybe there is scope for proceeding with damaging or dangerous disclosures by making provision that the author be liable to unlimited damages - hit their pockets if they overstated or dramatised their case. In the case of the cat in the bin, the better action might have been to pass the information to RSPCA or PETA for their consideration and action. We seem to have got there "Today the RSPCA confirmed they had identified the woman and would be questioning her. A spokeswoman said: "A woman featured in cctv footage putting a cat in a bin in Brays Road, Coventry has now been identified.
The RSPCA is leading an investigation into the incident and will be interviewing the woman shortly. Coventry Police are supporting this investigation and urge the public to leave the matter to be dealt with correctly by the authorities"
Compare that with just letting the information escape by posting it on Facebook - possibly the world's greatest collection of nutters outside confinement in special homes.