Mob rule? Not so fast.

Doug Rushkoff writes of a fascinating incident that’s sure to spark debate as we continue to evolve to a truly informed citizenry. Here’s the story: A bicycling blogger had an incident with an SUV in New York. The blogger was upset that the guy almost ran him over, so he stopped his bike in front of the guy and demanded an audience with the fellow. He got off his bike, the guy ran it over, the blogger got his license plate, and his commenters eventually outed the guy and even posted an e‑mail exchange. Turns out he’s the CEO of a software company.

Go read the original story and especially the comments. It’s pretty amazing stuff.

Rushkoff calls it “Street Justice” and points out that using the internet to “catch” a perp has ramifications that go beyond the deed.

While the mob’s action may not always prove benevolent, the power of a group of committed and angry people — working without top-down leadership — shouldn’t be underestimated, particularly in an age when so much information is available so quickly. This is a markedly different use of media than, say, the exploitation of radio in Rwanda to instigate mobs to round up targets and cut them to pieces. For in the case of broadcast media, it was more a matter of provocation and instigation than here on the Internet, where it looks a lot more like empowering a group of formerly voiceless or powerless individuals to take the collective action they had wanted to, all along.

Still, given the anonymity of the net, a case like this could as easily be fabricated as actual — making the crowd an easy tool for the abuse of an innocent. I’d have to believe that when mistakes like that are inevitably made, however, the crowd will use even greater effort to punish whoever abused their good will, and — if possible — repair the damage done.

A lot of people apparently think this incident is a dangerous use of technology, but I agree with Rushkoff. I agree, because I have faith in people that our institutions lack. Remember, modernism teaches that only rationality and the rule of law can overcome (ignorant) mob rule. These people are hardly ignorant, however, and that’s what’s new in our culture and what poses such remarkable promise for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, watch your step. Empowered people are watching.

Comments

  1. definitelynotthedetroitchannel says

    Terry, i’ve come across a list (thru google) that the State Bar publishes once a year that names lawyers whose license is suspended for non-payment of yearly dues. sounds innocent enough except when one of them decides to take work while they are on this list. the list has over 210 names on it this year!!! granted, some barristers will pass on, some will move out of state and others might move into a new career.

    the odds are that not all do though. matter of fact, the reason i dug up the list was just for that reason.

    i’m seriously considering taking it to the net if my issue with the State Bar is not properly addressed through the usual channels.

    so far, the Bar staff has been very anxious to help. my gripe is certainly not with them. however, did i just find the only rotten apple in a barrel of over 210? think not. a very quick search either side of this guy’s name revealed another that appears wormy.

    i’ll keep you posted.

Trackbacks

  1. […] From Terry Heaton: Doug Rushkoff writes of a fascinating incident that’s sure to spark debate as we continue to evolve to a truly informed citizenry. Here’s the story: A bicycling blogger had an incident with an SUV in New York. The blogger was upset that the guy almost ran him over, so he stopped his bike in front of the guy and demanded an audience with the fellow. He got off his bike, the guy ran it over, the blogger got his license plate, and his commenters eventually outed the guy and even posted an e‑mail exchange. Turns out he’s the CEO of a software company. […]

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