Two scary things happened last week. The first was the bombing in Boston during the annual marathon. The second scary event were the millions of people around the world who played amateur detective in an effort to beat the FBI at finding the bombers.
These “detectives” descended upon the deluge of social media photographs and videos uploaded by thousands of people who were present at the time of the incident. The police warned people to stop and not post their findings online for fear of vigilantism against innocent people.
The cyber crowd misidentified several people, one, a 17 year old who woke to find his picture plastered all over the internet as a suspect and threats were even posted on his Facebook page. Dozens of “friends” unfriended him. Other scrutinized suspects were the “Guy on the roof,” “Brown Sweatshirt Guy, ” “Running Away Guy,” and “Blue Robe Guy.” Fortunately they were not identified.
Three million people surfed to the site REDDIT, where a subreddit forum was created called FINDBOSTONBOMBERS then shortly afterward, accusations, speculation and cyber-stalking took place on the Facebook pages and websites of many innocent people.
This is directly opposite of what used to exist called the “No Snitch Culture.” If people saw a crime, they wouldn’t report it because they either feared retaliation or they didn’t trust the “Po-Po,” Many people outright hate the police and wouldn’t do anything to help them because they probably know someone in their own family who was railroaded by the system. Check out the car chase video clip from the movie “Jack Reacher.”
Jesse Jackson addressed this phenomenon while speaking at a Chicago college. He asked the students hypothetically that if they knew someone who had drugs and a gun in their car, would they call the police. There was a low rumble of “No” in response. Jackson asked again and their answer was stronger. He then asked them if they saw that someone had a rope and a Ku Klux Klan hood in their car, would they call the police. The crowd shouted “YES!” Jackson then said “We lost more lives from bullets and drugs than from rope. You’re willing to turn in a Klan member that doesn’t exist in your life, but not turn in the threat which takes thousands of lives each year.”
Jackson makes an excellent point. People are passionate about issues which really are not relevant in their lives or the lives of others. We are inculcated into this “holier than thou” mentality from the dozens of TV shows about glorified bounty hunters and catching criminals. WRGB news in my town has a weekly segment called “The Perp Patrol” where they glorify snitching on people and catching criminals in the context of reporting the news. It gives people the feeling of power over others, and, it boosts ratings.
There was a story about a woman who canvased the sex offender registry looking for employer information. When she found an ex offender who had a job, she would call the employer and inform them that their employee was a “child molester”. She found this one man working as a dish washer in a diner located in the state of Ohio. She went to the diner’s Facebook page and posted “If you do not terminate this man immediately, I will never visit your establishment again. You are putting our children at risk.” The diner posted that they didn’t know he was a sex offender and would take care of it immediately. This made news because the woman who issued the complaint lived in Oregon and has never been to Ohio in her life. She was arrested and charged with some sort of hate crime, harassment charge. The diner lost a lot of customers and was eventually sued by the former sex offender and the diner is now out of business. Hate begets hate and nobody wins when we allow vigilantism.
It is not just regular people who are snitching on each other, our technology is snitching on us, too. Ever since George Bush signed into law the Patriot Act. When you take a picture with your digital camera, it is digitally inscribing within the code of the picture your GPS coordinates and the model number of the camera, which I’m sure you registered with the camera company when you purchased it. If the FBI is interested in you, they too can get a copy when you snap a picture. When you print a page on your printer, not only does your printer print an invisible code denoting your printer model number on each page, which I’m sure you registered when you purchased it, but if the FBI so desires a copy and your printer is wireless or connected to the internet, they too can receive a copy. You know your computer, cell phone and tablet IP addresses can’t truly be obfuscated. Their true IP address is always traceable. All of your surfing, texting and phone calls are out there, preserved forever. Even if you turn off your cell phone’s GPS feature, the cell company still knows where you are and are tracking you via the cell towers. Just ask Malte Spitz who sued his cell phone carrier to turn over all the information they had on him which was over 35,000 pieces of tracking information. Some cell phone companies regularly listen in on cell phone calls all under the protection of the Patriot Act in an effort to protect you. If you have a relative in the military, you can bet that one of your phone calls have been listened in on at some point. The FBI and IRS also have cell phone tracking technology called “Stingray” which the government claims it doesn’t need a warrant for. Is all this tracking acceptable?
Every new car has built in GPS tracking units and your every turn is being recorded. Even if you don’t have a newer model, you’d be surprised where RFID chips are placed. They are now even in your tires and these chips can be read by millions of scanners placed across the country on our roads and highways.
Time Warner Cable not only has your complete phone and internet surfing records, but they even know what channels you watch on TV and when. Facebook knows your every friend, like and every page you’ve ever looked at. They have managed to sinuously network themselves in practically every webpage in the world – to better your surfing experience. If you use blocking software such as “Ghostery,” you can see some of the sites who are attempting to track you, for your benefit. There is a computer program called “Collusion” which will show you every website that is currently tracking you. After a day of surfing the net, there will be hundreds listed.
When the Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar, was finally revealed, amateur cyber detectives scurried around the internet to procure and save every tweet, photograph, email and posting they could find from him before his accounts were closed down and his friends could unfriend him. Within minutes, websites popped up with copies of his school records, medical data, jpegs of his complete Russian “Facebook” data and a list of all his “friends” names. You can bet that everyone who was his friend is under surveillance right now. We even know what time he goes to bed and gets up. Just google “What do we know about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev” and his whole life will be there laid out before your eyes and the data was predominately procured by normal average people who save this information before it can be deleted.
Big Brother is here and we invited him in right through the front door. We accept this because it both improves our lives and protects us. But from whom? Take a note from history and go to this website and start reading from around the date of1933, June 22. http://www.humanitas-international.org/holocaust/1930-34t.htm
The “No Snitch Culture” is scary because it lets people with intent to harm to continue their terror. The Patriot Act is also scary because it opens up the path for the government to erode future rights. The emerging vigilante culture is even more scary. Just ask anyone who was accused of and burned at the stake for witchcraft.
From “Jack Reacher.”