[wta-talk] Participatory Panopticon

Guiseppe Getto guiseppegetto at hotmail.com
Tue Dec 12 20:11:30 PST 2006

<wta-talk at transhumanism.org>


Permanent Link: http://cyborgiterationtendency.blogspot.com/

Watching The Watchmen Watching Us
by Jamais Cascio

This November, comedian Michael Richards learned about the participatory
panopticon. So did the UCLA police. And early in the month, Virginia Senator
George Allen learned that it can have a political bite.

The participatory panopticon is the emerging scenario of distributed
observation of the world around us, using cheap, networked tools like mobile
phones and open, web-based tools like YouTube. A rapidly-growing number of
us have literally at our fingertips systems of capturing and sharing what we
see. Most of what we capture will be of interest only to ourselves, or to
close friends and relatives; some, however, will have a far greater reach
that we might suspect.

What all three of the examples I cite at the beginning of this piece have in
common is that they were recordings of events that (a) the perpetrators
would, in retrospect, probably wish to have done differently, if at all, and
(b) would have received little notice in the era before personal networked
cameras and video-sharing websites. Certainly there may have been rumors
that a comedian had "gone nuts" on stage, or that UCLA cops had beaten a
student, but as rumors, they'd have a limited life-span, and would soon be
forgotten. Because of the participatory panopticon, however, these events
will for a very long time shape how many of us think about these people.

The participatory panopticon is not going to go away any time soon. The
publicity associated with the Richards and UCLA cases -- and the political
impact of the George Allen "macaca" incident -- virtually guarantees that
more citizens will have cameraphones at the ready to capture and share
damning evidence of the misbehavior of officials and celebrities. So what
will the participatory panopticon explosion look like?

Mass Participation: The next time we see a cameraphone-recorded, newsworthy
event, chances are we'll have multiple perspectives on it, each video
providing additional context and evidence. On balance, this will be useful,
as a typical response by those caught on video is that the recording misses
what happened before, or after; the more witnesses, the greater the
accuracy. Moreover, having multiple recordings helps to mitigate the effect

Fakes: The combination of the impact of these recordings, the low quality of
the actual video, and the rise of easy-to-use digital image and video tools
means we are almost certain to see faked cameraphone recordings of seemingly
volatile incidents, whether involving celebrities or civic officials. A
video uploaded to YouTube can be highly disruptive to the "story" a movie
star or presidential candidate wants told, even if the video is later shown
to be a hoax. The initial scandal usually carries more memetic weight than
the subsequent correction. Especially given what happened to George Allen,
expect to see one or more faked videos used to attack candidates in the
run-up to the 2008 election in the US. That's why we'll see more...

Self-recording for self-defense: A key lesson from the 2004 presidential
campaign in the US was that it's vitally important for protestors to make
their own (multiple) video recordings of protests and arrests. The NY police
videotaped protestors, but apparently edited the recordings later on to
justify the arrests -- edits that were exposed by comparisons to the
protestor videos. If the UCLA cops that beat the kid in the library last
month had been wearing their own personal cameras, they'd be able to
demonstrate that the kid was, as they claimed, behaving in a way that
warranted the beating prior to the point where the citizen cameraphone
recording started.

Self-recording for self-defense won't be much help if the individual does,
in fact, mess up -- it wouldn't have helped Michael Richards or George
Allen, for example. In the case of public officials, however, that's a good
thing. If a police officer or elected leader knows that every contact he or
she has with the public is being recorded, they will presumably be less
inclined to behave in careless or corrupt ways. This deterrent effect would
be even greater if the recordings were made available to the public soon
after they're made (with appropriate blurring or muting to protect the
privacy rights of the citizens involved).

For police officials, the use of personal cameras to record citizen
interactions would be a small step from the current use of dashboard-mounted
cameras in many police vehicles, used to record traffic stops and the like.
As the proliferation of "true life video" programs on television shows,
these recordings can be very useful as evidence if someone attacks an
officer; clearly, a badge-mounted camera would offer even greater
evidentiary value.

The proliferation of cameras this scenario suggests is undoubtedly troubling
for many civil libertarians and privacy advocates. The problem is, these
cameras have already proliferated -- the majority of mobile phones sold
around the world have a camera, and more cameraphones were sold in 2005 than
any other kind of camera, digital or film. We will have more examples of the
participatory panopticon in action in the coming weeks and months.
Similarly, surveillance cameras have become a commonplace part of urban
policing, whether mounted on buildings, street lights, or police car
dashboards. What we need are rules and practices that make the use of these
tools more responsible and transparent.

David Brin refers to this as "reciprocal accountability," a phrase I
particularly like because it recognizes that we have laws and public
officials for very good reasons, but that they need to be accountable to the
public in substantive ways. The participatory panopticon is the emergence of
an uncoordinated, haphazard form of reciprocal accountability, relying more
on scandal than on process. We will need to pay more attention to how these
practices are formalized for one very important reason:

The participatory panopticon watches us all; This isn't simply a concern for
police officers, politicians and comedians. Everyday citizens who behave in
ways that draw notice -- for good and for ill -- will increasingly find
themselves captured on cameraphones and featured on video sharing websites.
We're already seeing example of this, from the "dog poop girl" in South
Korea to student recordings of abusive teachers around the world. As more
people see the value of making these recordings, and as the tools for making
and sharing the videos become even easier, we will see this become a
commonplace part of news stories and public discourse.

The participatory panopticon isn't a scenario of the future; the
participatory panopticon is here.

There are 0 comments and trackbacks on this entry. Add yours now.

Stay up-to-date with your friends through the Windows Live Spaces friends

wta-talk mailing list
wta-talk at transhumanism.org

----- End forwarded message -----
Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a> http://leitl.org
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820            http://www.ativel.com
8B29F6BE: 099D 78BA 2FD3 B014 B08A  7779 75B0 2443 8B29 F6BE

[demime 1.01d removed an attachment of type application/pgp-signature which had a name of signature.asc]

More information about the cypherpunks-legacy mailing list