Dog Poop Girl

Here's the basic story: A woman and her dog are riding the Seoul subways. The dog poops in the floor. The woman refuses to clean it up, despite being told to by other passangers. Someone takes a picture of her, posts it on the Internet, and she is publicly shamed -- and the story will live on the Internet forever. Then, the blogosphere debates the notion of the Internet as a social enforcement tool.

The Internet is changing our notions of personal privacy, and how the public enforces social norms.

Daniel Solove writes:

The dog-shit-girl case involves a norm that most people would seemingly agree to -- clean up after your dog. Who could argue with that one? But what about when norm enforcement becomes too extreme? Most norm enforcement involves angry scowls or just telling a person off. But having a permanent record of one’s norm violations is upping the sanction to a whole new level. The blogosphere can be a very powerful norm-enforcing tool, allowing bloggers to act as a cyber-posse, tracking down norm violators and branding them with digital scarlet letters.

And that is why the law might be necessary -- to modulate the harmful effects when the norm enforcement system gets out of whack. In the United States, privacy law is often the legal tool called in to address the situation. Suppose the dog poop incident occurred in the United States. Should the woman have legal redress under the privacy torts?

If this incident is any guide, then anyone acting outside the accepted norms of whatever segment of humanity surrounds him had better tread lightly. The question we need to answer is: is this the sort of society we want to live in? And if not, what technological or legal controls do we need to put in place to ensure that we don't?

Solove again:

I believe that, as complicated as it might be, the law must play a role here. The stakes are too important. While entering law into the picture could indeed stifle freedom of discussion on the Internet, allowing excessive norm enforcement can be stifling to freedom as well.

All the more reason why we need to rethink old notions of privacy. Under existing notions, privacy is often thought of in a binary way ­ something either is private or public. According to the general rule, if something occurs in a public place, it is not private. But a more nuanced view of privacy would suggest that this case involved taking an event that occurred in one context and significantly altering its nature ­ by making it permanent and widespread. The dog-shit-girl would have been just a vague image in a few people’s memory if it hadn’t been for the photo entering cyberspace and spreading around faster than an epidemic. Despite the fact that the event occurred in public, there was no need for her image and identity to be spread across the Internet.

Could the law provide redress? This is a complicated question; certainly under existing doctrine, making a case would have many hurdles. And some will point to practical problems. Bloggers often don’t have deep pockets. But perhaps the possibility of lawsuits might help shape the norms of the Internet. In the end, I strongly doubt that the law alone can address this problem; but its greatest contribution might be to help along the development of blogging norms that will hopefully prevent more cases such as this one from having crappy endings.

Posted on July 29, 2005 at 4:21 PM • 55 Comments

Comments

ArikJuly 29, 2005 5:09 PM

There was an incident in Israel recently, where a guy who is very active on the Internet and is also very active against the police in his online publication, was detained at 3AM walking in his neighborhood. He just happened to have his MP3 player which can also record, and he recorded the officers detaining him. They clearly knew who he was and used his Internet alias when they called him over.

They started at being very overt about trying find reasons to arrest him, but once they noticed he was recording them, and after he refused their request to stop recording them, they became all formal and polite and ended up giving him a nice speech about serving and protecting and released him. He nearly immediately published an MP3 file with the entire incident to his subscribers.

Just food for thought.

JoeJuly 29, 2005 5:18 PM

I don't understand the logic presented here. If a journalist had been present with the ability to visually record what happened (and who did it) and thought it newsworthy, what then? The comments imply that there is no "law" against not cleaning up after an animal (or human) defecates in a public place and, if not, that the woman had some legitimate expectation of privacy? The fact that you and I didn't have the ability to record such a "violation" a hundred years ago should not be used to suggest that we would not have done so if we could. What's new here is the technology to capture the act and the woman should have been aware of the risk of disclosure. Her bad!

Ian WoollardJuly 29, 2005 5:33 PM

I think that one or two hundred years ago, exactly the same thing could have happened, the image wouldn't have been taken with a camera, but with the eyes of the local villagers where you lived. As I understand it, people have slightly less privacy in a village many times- everyone knows each out.

In a fairly real sense perhaps we are returning to an earlier time now- one where public reputation is more important, and people's reputations aren't known, but easily discovered on the internet. Should or even can this be legislated against? I have my doubts.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 29, 2005 5:34 PM

Good thing she wasn't in London or her dog shit might have been mistaken for an IED.

I agree with Joe. And I think the more interesting question is really in terms of DRM and whether something that can be captured by the public in the public space is owned by the public. I mean why would someone sue for damages when they could sue for the far more lucrative rights to the dog-shit-girl story, screenplay, movie, dolls, fake dog-shit to leave on subways as a joke, etc..

"anyone acting outside the accepted norms of whatever segment of humanity surrounds him had better tread lightly"

That has always and forever probably will be the case...I do not see what technology really changes about the situation other than adding the impact of a true likeness, thus my comment above about DRM.

Mike SchiraldiJuly 29, 2005 5:37 PM

I feel the solution here is to make this kind of enforcement -more- widespread. If one woman is singled out, yeah, she bears a disproportionate amount of public shame. But if there were a site called subway-jerks.com that posted dozens of these examples every day (dog-poopers, litterers, people putting their feet on the seats...), i think she would get just the right amount of shame.

Bruce SchneierJuly 29, 2005 5:44 PM

"But if there were a site called subway-jerks.com that posted dozens of these examples every day (dog-poopers, litterers, people putting their feet on the seats...), i think she would get just the right amount of shame."

That's an excellent point.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 29, 2005 6:01 PM

Just one other thought, you might say the original "punk" movement encouraged people to dress as outrageously as possible (outside the norm) in order to reject conformity (well, and draw attention to themselves in order to parody and emphasize the unemployment and social alienation during early Thatcher years). The word itself is supposedly from a term used by American Police in the 1950s to describe someone who refuses to obey an authority. So using them as an example, I suppose if dog-shit-girl really believed in her cause or the value of leaving shit for someone else to clean, she would have welcomed the celebrity of her situation and called on others to disobey the authorities. Otherwise, she should have just kept her dog in a space where there is less risk of exposing oneself to judgement and shame. Who expects privacy on a public subway anyway, especially given that complete strangers ride it with their dogs who might shit on you?

Mark J.July 29, 2005 6:23 PM

The world is chock full of rude and inconsiderate people. This woman is just one among many. If it becomes an internet trend to publicly shame these people on a website, a la subway-jerks.com, the "shame" will become fame, with people doing whatever it takes to see their own face on the site. God save us.

BTW, subway-jerks.com is available if anyone is interested in hosting the site. :-)

Max KaehnJuly 29, 2005 6:35 PM

If you only have subway-jerks.com out there as a place to put your face up, sure, it's a source of fame. But if subway-jerks.com hooks up to a network of reputation systems, and getting documented on that site causes you to be shunned by people who use it in their profile (without necessarily following the site in detail), people will make efforts to stay off it.

(You could use the same data to join an elite fraternity of subway jerks, of course. But I suspect "hell is other people" would kick in at a party consisting of nothing but subway jerks.)

acJuly 29, 2005 6:48 PM

Sounds like a pretty straightforward application of libel law to me.

Libel in the American sense means that you can't take pictures of a random person, publish it to the Internet, and say that person did something they didn't do. If so, they can sue for libel.

Libel in the British (or is it Australian?) sense doesn't require that the publication be false--only that it's intended to defame someone's character. So if Korea has British/Australian-style libel laws, she can sue.

I guess the only thing new here is the ease with which anyone can become a "publisher", and the relative insignificance of the things people may choose to publish. But seriously--the law in this area has been more-or-less settled in much of the world. Or am I missing something?

dangJuly 29, 2005 6:58 PM

This is a tricky issue.

On one hand, society benefits greatly by encouraging thoughtful experiments in living. This requires not only liberalism in the political and legal systems, but tolerance in the community. The concern here wouldn't be as much with dog poop girl ( because I think that there are reasonable public health concerns in play and because I think that Mill was roughly right in constraining liberty by a harm criterion ), but with a society that was disposed to wrecklessly impose social pressure in the face of difference.

On the other hand, we do use social pressure to both teach and enforce good behavior. Might as well stick with Mill here, who observed that it is by the external sanctions of punishment and social pressure and by the internal sanctions of guilt feelings that you can influence motivation in the direction of good. But such sanctions quickly become pernicious if their application is heavy-handed. Neither moralistic societies nor societies made up of guilt-ridden individuals are desirable.

Tricky. Less tricky in this equation is the question of trust. It is clear police states incur huge costs when they turn neighbor against neighbor and family member against family member. On any given day, the word of a friend or acquaitance could lead to one's imprisonment, torture or death. But even if there are few "disappearances" the quality of life for everyone becomes intolerable because the environment in which trust is possible has been destroyed. I fear that wanton public shaming could be similarly corrosive.

NickJuly 29, 2005 7:00 PM


Perhaps the subway-dog-shit anecdote isn't the best example, because people tend to agree - it's a public place, no one really expects to find a dog pursuing a natural activity on the subway, and 'clean up after your dog' laws are commonplace.

But what happens when the reported action is based on moral perceptions rather than civil law? Oh, look, it's a picture of a local teacher buying a book on Wicca (or even just the latest Harry Potter novel). It's a photo of an overweight person chomping down on a Big Mac.

It's a case of 'if you're not doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to worry about' ... except we don't know what might constitute another person's definition of 'wrong.'

Davi OttenheimerJuly 29, 2005 7:05 PM

@ac

good point.

the photo would qualify as exposure to ridicule. so who could she sue if the photo spreads around every blog on the net? at least that seems to have been the original argument Bruce cited, which was lost completely in the "but if there were a site called subway-jerks.com" discussion thread.

one site = someone (or a finite group) publishing something that easily could be found malicious and/or defamatory

distributed blogs = the norm? and if so, who is really in charge?

that's why i thought DRM made a good segue...

Davi OttenheimerJuly 29, 2005 7:36 PM

My attempts to translate this document are probably insufficient, but it seems to say that wireless providers in Italy need to be careful not to "reduce the sphere of personal privacy and endanger human dignity" by allowing "a mobile telephone capable of sending messages that can easily and immediately place in circulation collections of images of private and public places."

http://www.garanteprivacy.it/garante/doc.jsp?ID=29816

Hard to tell without a fluent translation, but it was written in 2003 and does point to some of the issues raised here about using technology to modify our current sense of private and public spaces.

Roy OwensJuly 29, 2005 7:53 PM

How to shut down an abortion clinic? Take pictures of people coming and going and post them on the Internet, where they can serve as a hit list for snipers and bombers and arsonists who are comfortable with killing women who get abortions.

How to shut down Alcoholics Anonymous: post pictures of attendees on a shame site. Same for Narcotics Anonymous.

Now, what happens when somebody tries to station himself at the booking desk at the local precinct to get pictures of arrestees to post on a shame site? I bet the cops start cracking heads, and lenses, in short order.

It's a good bet anybody trying to post to a police brutality website will be sorry.

Technology develops at an exponential rate. Legal practices will never keep up, but why should they, where's their incentive?

Roy OwensJuly 29, 2005 7:58 PM

I forgot: Think of what happens when the data mining industry pulls Joe Blow's name off a shame-site and includes the reference in pre-employment background check. The prospective employer will no doubt choose to believe the unproven guilt suggested by publication on the site, and never inform the applicant why he's been rejected.

Mark J.July 29, 2005 8:21 PM

@Davi

"the photo would qualify as exposure to ridicule. so who could she sue if the photo spreads around every blog on the net? at least that seems to have been the original argument Bruce cited, which was lost completely in the "but if there were a site called subway-jerks.com" discussion thread."

I don't think the original argument was lost at all. In fact it was part of the original question.

"The question we need to answer is: is this the sort of society we want to live in? And if not, what technological or legal controls do we need to put in place to ensure that we don't?"

The first question is directly related to the subway-jerks.com thread, while the second relates, at least in part, to your point.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 29, 2005 9:22 PM

@Mark J.

"I don't think the original argument was lost at all. In fact it was part of the original question"

Well I just do not see how you would make enforcement more widespread by establishing a single site name...quite the opposite you would be hard-pressed to get one site to be representative of the "norm" and you would create an easy target for legal and/or other retaliation.

Maureen HayJuly 29, 2005 9:45 PM

The real problem here is that this would be a crime defined entirely by the delicacy of the victim's sensibilities. Someone might take advantage of the situation and do interviews on TV, appear on Leno, etc. Someone else might go into a deep depression over the same treatment. Where would you draw the line between crime and not-crime?

Mark J.July 29, 2005 10:53 PM

Actually, Davi, I was referring to Bruce's question about whether this was the type of society we want to live in. Imagine these shame sites popping up everywhere. No fun. Almost as bad as the pervasiveness of reality TV. Ugh.

sprakJuly 29, 2005 11:05 PM

@Roy O.

I doubt many police officers would crack down on that sort of behavior unless ordered to by superiors. There are a number of examples in the US of newspapers and the police cooperating and posting photos of prostitutes, strippers, and those solicting sex in daily/weekly publications.
(cf. recent article http://www.tampabays10.com/news/news.aspx?storyid=16836)

Andrew McGuinnessJuly 30, 2005 3:03 AM

ac is wrong about Libel in Britain - truth is a defence to a libel charge, it's just the burden of proof is reversed. Davi is wrong about punk - it had pretty much run its course in Britain by 1979, so relating it to Thatcher is bizzare. As with Bruce's discussion of security cameras (which I take issue with at http://anomalyuk.blogspot.com/2005/07/policing-terrorism.html) the question is really about how public public information is, and the answer is that it's getting more public, for good or ill.

bobJuly 30, 2005 4:17 AM

How is this possibly a legal issue? However unpleasant we might find the reaction to dog-poop-girl, the public has the right to freedom of speech. Unless someone openly advocates violence against her being, then there is absolutely no case here. Trying to twist libel and defamation laws is what leads to fascism and a police state, like Singapore or China.

In a democracy the citizens have the right to speak their mind in a public forum. Any attempt to oppress those who try to exercise those rights is dangerous.

dangerJuly 30, 2005 4:19 AM

I find the logic of the columnists very disturbing - this idea that we can try to use law to suppress basic freedoms to "protect" some nonexistent ideal of social harmony. This is what gives us police states like China.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 30, 2005 4:42 AM

@Andrew McGuinness

"wrong about punk - it had pretty much run its course in Britain by 1979, so relating it to Thatcher is bizzare"

Very definitively stated. You seem to be confusing a peak with the end, since the punk movement went well beyond 1979 (when Thatcher came to power), especially if you consider its move into the more mainstream while mods started to appear. If we really want to split hairs, punk historians say that 1980 was just the end of the beginning, since London Calling was only just released that year...

Anyway, my point was that punks represented an anti-establishment movement where being outside the norm was intentional and obvious, even to the extent of being purposefully obnoxious even in public.

With specific regard to Thatcher, punk bands like Crass challenged her rise to power and political events in the 1980s like the Falklands War. Remember the "Thatchergate Tapes"? Fender Guitars, who you might say was actually there for the whole thing, also references anti-Thatcherism as a major theme for punk music:

http://www.fendereurope.com/fenderfiles/FenderandtheGoldenAgeofPunk1976-81.asp

"British punk in the late seventies and early eighties was a rebellion against some of the more bombastic excesses of the rock era. The targets of punk ranged from tight-trousered prog-rockers with twin-necked guitars to Margaret Thatcher, racism and unemployment. The British punk movement was fuelled by social disillusionment and heaps of cheap amphetamines. The punk motto of the day reflected the new mood of mistrust and disillusionment in the U.K at the time: 'NO FUTURE!'"

ExodusJuly 30, 2005 5:10 AM

Its a difficult question.

Of course fighting crime post-action is positive; given that the definition of crime is just and not left to some random social, religious, political, commercial, criminal, personal, media or other non-objective definition.

First - the Brin approach - we cant stop it anyway, so give up and hope that this also applies to the elite. Which it of course wont. We can find lots of little examples where a violation is a bit more easily addressed with public or private surveillance, but it doesnt change the fact that the abuse of making people and companies unconditionally transparant vastly will exeed the positives.

Second
The woman is defensely against a story that just escalates.
You might say justifiably, which is of course wrong as the damage vastly exeeds har wrongdoing.
You might say that it is proportionate as a deterrent to similar offenses, which is of course wrong as is means death penealty is ok for traffic speeding if it just reduced traffic speeding.
You might say that her story will disapper in the crowd, but that is of course wrong as it in a digital world is stored and abusable in any context and - worse - the main problem is the randomness.

The picture and the story is not linked - the journalists professionals or amateurs will tell their story in their version. Who is to say if this is targetted and planned? If I want to commit character assasination on you, I can if this kind of violent and random tools is available. But of course, I will have someone else do it.

The Brin solution is always - even more survaillance will do the trick. Because then perhaps the woman would be able to document her version of the incidents and recordings of me arranging it.

Pictures kill reputations and lives and your ability to protect yourself is unproportionate given this is the way, things are done.

In the digital world there is no such as thing as a public space because people bring their private property (their body etc.) and dont have choice not too.

You dont consent to this kind of violent abuse just because you rise in the morning and go to work. I dont have a free speech right to destroy your life.

Well - enough. I am just amazed how eaily people accept others beeing made an unproportionate target for some minor incident that would have been solved anyway.

Ian MasonJuly 30, 2005 5:21 AM

@Joe
"The fact that you and I didn't have the ability to record such a "violation" a hundred years ago should not be used to suggest that we would not have done so if we could."

A hundred or possibly more years ago life was smaller. You lived and travelled in a smaller area and many, if not most, of the people you saw knew you or knew of you. In that scenario social transgressions would quickly become known to many who knew or know of you.

@ac/ Andrew McGuinness

"Libel in the British (or is it Australian?) sense doesn't require that the publication be false--only that it's intended to defame someone's character. So if Korea has British/Australian-style libel laws, she can sue."

In British libel law something truthful not only has to defame, but has to have been published maliciously before a libel is commited. If it's fair comment it isn't libellous. Truth of an allegation is NOT a complete defence to libel. [I used to be a journalist and a good knowledge of libel law is essential to keeping out of court in the UK.]

==
Generally:-

I think the whole thing is self limiting. Someone's public behaviour has to be sufficently bad before anyone will be motivated to take the time and trouble to publish their misdeeds. If the publisher is someone who has an axe to grind and runs round publishing every incident they can find that matches their personal grievance criteria, their reputation will suffer and their publications will become ignored. If that kind of publisher's actions are sufficiently over the top then the legal system will stop them - someone will take action against them based on libel, privacy or harrassment law.

In the more balanced case I think this probably serves the public good. I generally don't do anything that I wouldn't be prepared to do in public unless it is something that most people would expect to only be done in private.

I agree there are special cases. I've a friend who is a pagan and is also a social worker. Some years ago, when society was more ignorant and pagan was synonymous with "baby eating satanist" in many circles*, he used to use a nom de plume for all his public pagan related activity such as giving talks and published writing. However, for risk to exist to him it didn't require the "dog shit girl" phenomenon to exist just the cheesy end of traditional print media. I doubt that this new phenomenon is any more of a risk than the tradtional media for people who already have to be careful in public life.

* I realize that this view is still held by a deranged few despite the fact that all the "satanic ritual abuse" hysteria was been systematically debunked. Fortunately we don't let such idiots take up important posts such as judges, MPs, senators or presidents, do we?

Chris WrightJuly 30, 2005 7:55 AM

@ac
"Libel in the American sense means that you can't take pictures of a random person, publish it to the Internet, and say that person did something they didn't do. If so, they can sue for libel."

But if that woman actually did leave dogshit on the subway, then it's not libel. Nothing that is true is libel in the US.

At any rate, the woman in question did this in a public place in front of other people. When I'm on public property, I don't have a right not to be photographed. The right to privacy holds while I am on private property.

If you disagree, consider the following: it's completely legal for me to hold an orgy of ten men in my house. It's illegal for me to hold an orgy of ten men in Central Park. The former is protected by my right to privacy. The latter isn't, because it's on public property where I am, essentially, broadcasting my actions.

Davi OttenheimerJuly 30, 2005 2:22 PM

@ Ian Mason

"A hundred or possibly more years ago life was smaller. You lived and travelled in a smaller area and many, if not most, of the people you saw knew you or knew of you. In that scenario social transgressions would quickly become known to many who knew or know of you."

Yes, to some degree, but this sounds more like a romanticized version of history than fact. I am amazed how often I hear people characterize the past as some sort of boring, slow, and droll life. And yet we know that people regularly migrated around the globe usually not by choice. Kant, if you will, was a very odd exception to the rule. In fact, consider that today we can make a 1,000 km journey seem like an afternoon jaunt, surrounded by only our friends, whereas a hundred or more years ago there were no such privileges unless you were extremely wealthy. Any amount of travel back then for most people meant less control of their immediate environment and therefore exposure to different norms at virtually at every stop.

Ari HeikkinenJuly 30, 2005 4:07 PM

Public shaming only works if the one being shamed cares. Ignore it and it becomes useless.

RogerJuly 31, 2005 8:27 AM

There's some curious ideas about the history of photography here; 100 years ago (indeed 117 years ago) we most certainly had the ability to do this. George Eastman introduced his Kodak cameras in 1888 and created the concept of the snapshot. Compared to using a camera phone, the cost was higher but still cheap enough for a casual hobby. (Correcting for inflation, in 1888 it worked out to US $5/shot, by 1900 with the Box Brownie this was down to $3.70/shot in today's money. These prices include development, printing and mounting.) 100 years ago someone probably would not have photographed this incident, but that was more due to the sensibilities of the day. They could, and did, photograph people misbehaving in other ways.

Are camera phones today more ubiquitous than box cameras 100 years ago? I doubt it, but even if they are, I seriously doubt the difference is so great as to cause a social revolution.

What is different here is not the ability to record images at any time and (public) place, but the ability to publish them.

albertJuly 31, 2005 12:30 PM

@Roy

"The prospective employer will no doubt choose to believe the unproven guilt suggested by publication on the site, and never inform the applicant why he's been rejected."

Although I have never left dog poop (or any kind of poop) on a subway, in my experience, employers never call back to explain why they've thrown my resume into the circular file anyway. I feel lucky if I get a little post card to acknowledge they got it in the first place.

Is your experience different?

rigelJuly 31, 2005 2:17 PM

I think that the example is particularly bad, because it's from a culture that is much more homogeneous (or tries to be) than countries in the "Anglosphere". There's also an implicit assumption that culture is somehow static, that the hypothetical gallery of subway jerks will not cause some to realize how prevalent socially-unacceptable-behavior-x is (and consequently prod some to not be so critical of said behavior) in addition to providing the necessary excuse some people need to pass social judgements on others.
large groups of people have always had mechanisms for ostracizing undesirables, but the less monolithic they are, the less one should care.

JoeJuly 31, 2005 4:02 PM

Doesn't this sort of thing give us a form of law enforcement without government? And while it may become objectionable in some ways...couldn't similar arguments be applied to the use of government for law enforcement?

In Singapore, you can get arrested for spitting on the street, or chewing gum, or some such silliness. America has a few social norms of its own enforced by government force. In a democratic society, the majority can enforce any norms by passing laws against behaviors they dislike. In non-democratic societies, the minority in charge can do so. How are either of these so fundamentally different from the adhoc enforcement on the Japanese subway?

Government enforcement is much more expensive, of course. And you've got "due process," though that's a fading concept in America these days....eg., traffic cameras can result in a fine, no judge or jury involved, through a process not so different from this guy snapping a pic on the subway...just a bit more automated.

Maybe civilization has needed government law enforcement, so far, only because it didn't have Internet, distributed surveillance, and reputation systems.

another_bruceAugust 1, 2005 2:13 AM

there's a whole lot of puzzling solicitude being expressed here for a woman who let her dog shit in a subway car, then refused to clean it up. some tender hearts are uncomfortable that somebody photographed her and uploaded it. the implication is that they did not have the right to do this. since there were apparently no cops present, what other alternative sanctions were available? would you approve if i grabbed her by the neck, forced her face to the floor and rubbed it in the dogshit? if that were photographed, what might the blogosphere say about that? just talking about applying the law to this situation overlooks the fact that technology runs faster than the law, and that people are self-interested beings, and frequently a legal problem can be morphed into an engineering problem, which is almost always easier to solve. after i finish extending sympathy to the other riders in the car, i find i have none left for the woman.

Tommy PirbosAugust 1, 2005 6:09 AM

In Sweden it's illegal to post post pictures on the internet of people that are recognizable without their consent. This is a law that is widely debated in Sweden.
I think there should be a reasonable freedom of speech, but the thought of people spreading lies and abusing the freedom of speech (which actually can be done) also scares me, so it's a difficult issue.
For example it wouldn't be nice if people had total freedom posting pictures illustrating someone using the toilet or having sex or something else equally private.

CJAugust 1, 2005 7:07 AM

I think it is a question of norm enforcement, but from both sides. The blogosphere is enforcing a norm, and that can be a useful social function - but there aren't any norms being enforced on the blogosphere in turn.

ProbitasAugust 1, 2005 8:08 AM

While the idea of a website publishing pix of subway jerks is appealing at one level, let's take it to the logical extreme conclusion of the trend. "Enforcers" of "norms" take pictures of people whose actions they don't agree with and post them on the net. Certain key phrases may be used to encourage that we as a society rise up and take action against these individuals who refuse to adopt our standards. Does this sound like the actions of some pro-life zealots yet?

I am not in any way advocating allowing one's dog to relieve itself in the public way without taking personal responsibility, but vigilante justice, however appealing, is something that can easily get out of hand. Rightousness is an incredibly powerful sentiment, and it tends to breed intolerance.

xtAugust 1, 2005 10:01 AM

Here are a couple more instances of the bloggers trying to enforce their norms:

http://www.boingboing.net/2005/06/26/helsinkis_lehtovaara.html

http://www.boingboing.net/2005/03/07/damagecausing_tow_tr.html

The first one is about a restaurant owner whom a customer thought was a jerk. The second is about a tow truck driver doing damages and getting caught on a cell phone camera. In both instances, the blogosphere was used as a forum for defamation.

The links should be correct... I didn't want to dig through BoingBoing too much on my work connection ;-)

RvnPhnxAugust 1, 2005 10:22 AM

I would just like to note that the basic notion of public shaming, and of the need to contain such shame in either a manner of time or of space is not something new. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter in 1850, a classic indeed. He himself was still trying to flee the implications of having a family member of the very same name on the Salem Witch Trials court as a judge (with the last name spelled differently--he added the "e" to the end himself). Take it from somebody whom knows about the dangers of unrelenting unforgiving public shame--Hawthorne--something he most certianly knew about. Then you can make as many arguments as you like one way or another about how to deal with the problem.

Paul OAugust 1, 2005 12:17 PM

One has to select "politically correct" shame, as well. Sex offenders are considered game. Poor people, as an example of a group considered not game, have various support groups backing them suggesting that anything which identifies them as poor (e.g. food stamps) is humilating and demeaning.

Those not cleaning up after their dogs have yet to be solidly identified as game or not for public shame.

Paul OAugust 1, 2005 12:23 PM

@ RvnPhnx

It's useful to understand that Hawthorne was, himself, from Salem MA. The House of Seven Gables is still a big tourist attraction, along with the witch trial recreations.

MalFadorAugust 1, 2005 1:00 PM

Vigilante justice and social disagreements have been around forever, and will always exist. When society begins to feel that policy, laws, and their enforcement has become lax or are incomplete they begin to lash out. Once you step off private property you acknowledge the fact that you are in a public domain and everything you do is considered public knowledge (with exceptions as the bathroom, mother rooms, dressing rooms, etc.) The main difference is that the “public knowledge��? is expanding with leaps and bounds. We are no longer confined to a village, town, or city, but are viewed by the world. What the lady did (or didn’t do) on the subway was both illegal as well as completely uncivil. She would not be able to sue unless the information was false or misleading. She could file a civil suit for deformation of character but would likely loose, due to the fact that she did commit the act in question. Should it be alright to video tape, record, or photo everything? Yes, as long as it is in the public domain. If you don’t want the world to know about it, then DON’T DO IT!

WombatAugust 1, 2005 4:05 PM

@Davi

Regarding suing a "finite entity", I believe there is precedence to the contrary, in the example eBay. A quick perusal of their site reveals that it considers itself not liable for defamatory remarks posted by users, by virtue of federal law (the Communications Decency Act) "because eBay does not censor feedback or investigate it for accuracy, eBay is not legally responsible for the remarks that members post, even if those remarks are defamatory. However, this law does not protect the person who leaves the feedback from responsibility for it."

This raises the question whether such sites could exist and whether they would ever be subject to law. The example of such sites as F***edcompany.com suggest they can exist and thrive.

Davi OttenheimerAugust 1, 2005 8:01 PM

@ Wombat

Good points. eBay obviously has so much volume it wants nothing to do with the liability of censorship issues, so it chooses a broad disclaimer instead. Moreover, mega sites like eBay used to be far more forthcoming but they've been burned both ways and require some form of formal authorization before they will willingly turnover a ID to anyone, including authorities. Both of those situations say to me that they've modified their behavior to fit within the laws. Maybe the other site you cite has done the same? Again, I think the issue is that it is much harder to litigate or even modify the behavior of thousands of independent bloggers...

Also, do you think a single site, even as successful as eBay, constitute the "norm" on its own?

MichielAugust 2, 2005 8:09 AM

"and the story will live on the Internet forever." or until the next thing comes along. While I get the gist of your post I think with the attention span of the net nobody will remember her in a few weeks, or months.

Curt SampsonAugust 2, 2005 8:20 AM

I wonder if we aren't overestimating the effect on people's reputations of this sort of publicity, or the effect on one's life of such stains on one's reputation. After all, there are people out there who've gotten into far worse trouble, and had it broadcast far more throughly, and yet they seem to live happy lives.

Bill Clinton, despite the sex scandal, still enjoys great popularity and gets paid tens of thousands of dollars for an appearance. Henry Kissinger, despite having done things nasty enough that both Harper's and Vanity Fair consider plausable Christopher Hitchens's argument that he ought to be indicted as a war criminal, continues happily on as a chancellor at the College of William and Mary.

This whole "dog-shit" thing may slide off of that girl faster than it was cleaned up off of the floor of the subway car.

Ed T.August 2, 2005 1:51 PM

Actually, this isn't all that new an idea -- back in the 1990's someone got tired of all the 'Make Money Fast' schemes arriving in his inbox, so he decided to create a 'Hall of Shame' where he could expose the perpetrators of this type of fraud -- the site lives on as the MMF Hall of Humiliation (http://www.mmfhoh.org)

As the registrant for this domain, I get all kinds of complaints from people who are "featured" on the site -- most of them claiming that they have "suffered enough" and demanding that their 'personal information' (which *they* posted to at least 200 news groups, or sent out to a CD full of email addresses of complete strangers) be removed. Interestingly enough, it appears that the fear of them being found out by a prospective employer doing a pre-hiring Google is the driving factor.

I don't know whether or not this site has had a noticeable impact on the amount of MMF pyramid schemes found on the 'Net, but it sure makes some of us feel better.

ECMpukeAugust 2, 2005 6:26 PM

Bad enough when the allegations are true, but what to do when they are false? Clearly, a case for cyberman and his dog, the lawyer.

DarkFireAugust 3, 2005 10:47 AM

Under british law posting such information anywhere on line would be an excellent candidate for harassment.

Furthermore, anyone writing nasty emails to the unfortunate person featured in the on-line material would be lioable to arrest for malicious communications.

Lastly, there are also potential consequences regarding public disclosure of any "private information". The British legal definition is a bit esoteric, but anyone posting pictures, info etc. would also potentially be committing offences under the data protection act.

I believe we have the necessary legislation to prevent this sort of thing (when required) but we do need the will to enforce it. I would imagine that most occurances of this type go unreported to the boys & girls in blue...

Slave400August 3, 2005 10:35 PM

@ Roy O.
"I forgot: Think of what happens when the data mining industry pulls Joe Blow's name off a shame-site and includes the reference in pre-employment background check. The prospective employer will no doubt choose to believe the unproven guilt suggested by publication on the site, and never inform the applicant why he's been rejected."

"and the story will live on the Internet forever."

Reminds me of the infamous Bernard Shifman incident. Just google his name and see for yourself.

http://spamnews.com/spamflames/ShifmanIsAMoronSpammer.html

jayhAugust 4, 2005 12:59 PM

>>The British legal definition is a bit esoteric, but anyone posting pictures, info etc. would also potentially be committing offences under the data protection act.

What defines the difference between this and freelance news blogs?

Or is this type of law a blessing to the established media, who, blessed with lawyers and insurance, can reassert monopoly over reportings of goings on.

IrondogAugust 5, 2005 9:13 AM

I've been doing some research lately concerning the pervasive use of SSNs in databases by public, private and government entities. Some states now use it and display it as a driver's license number. It seems to me that if we made SSNs "public" information....which in most cases it already is... we'd make all those businesses and the government come up with a new idenitification scheme. With all the new legislation on the books now maybe the new scheme would be better protected than the SSN. I realize that your SSN is the only unique idenitification about any individual and to me that's what has made it "public". I think it's ironic that the various entities that have your SSN, with all their information about you tied to, it are sharing all that information with each other yet via your SSN. Yet, we're told that your SSN is private information. (sic!)

HarryAugust 20, 2005 3:04 AM

Blogging is like Douglas Adams "curse of telepathy" where everyone's thoughts are made public. Someone sitting on a train thinks "Yuck, that lady should clean that shit up" and spews this onto the internet, so just like DNA said in order to stop actual thoughts, the blogs are full of inane topics and material. Imagine if all the thoughts went into something useful like solving world hunger or the fuel crisis or security issues.

Christine-eeeyFebruary 15, 2011 7:04 PM

I don't know why people harass others for small reasons. It's so mean. Cyber-bullying should be against the law. (Is it already against the law? Because I don't know.) People who bully other people on the internet, and people who stalk young middle schoolers and high schoolers should be ashamed of themselves. It's just wrong. It's sad to think of what has been done to so many kids, just because of a text message, or even a website.

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