[Clips] The Snoop Next Door

R.A. Hettinga rah at shipwright.com
Fri Jan 12 20:03:32 PST 2007

Wherein WSJ discovers Brinworld.

They oughtta pass a law...


--- begin forwarded text

  Delivered-To: rah at shipwright.com
  Delivered-To: clips at philodox.com
  Date: Fri, 12 Jan 2007 23:01:41 -0500
  To: Philodox Clips List <clips at philodox.com>
  From: "R.A. Hettinga" <rah at shipwright.com>
  Subject: [Clips] The Snoop Next Door
  Reply-To: clips-chat at philodox.com
  Sender: clips-bounces at philodox.com


  The Wall Street Journal

  The Snoop Next Door

  Bad parking, loud talking -- no transgression is too trivial to document
  online. Our reporter on new Web sites for outing fellow citizens.


  January 12, 2007; Page W1

  Last month, Eva Burgess was eating breakfast at the Rose Cafe in Venice,
  Calif., when she remembered she needed to make an appointment with her eye
  doctor. So the New York theater director got on her cellphone and booked a

  Almost immediately, she started receiving "weird and creepy" calls
  directing her to a blog. There, under the posting "Eva Burgess Is Getting
  Glasses!" her name, cellphone number and other details mentioned in her
  call to the doctor's office were posted, along with the admonition, "next
  time, you might take your business outside." The offended blogger had been
  sitting next to Ms. Burgess in the cafe.

  It used to be the worst you could get for a petty wrong in public was a
  rude look. Now, it's not just brutal police officers, panty-free
  celebrities and wayward politicians who are being outed online. The most
  trivial missteps by ordinary folks are increasingly ripe for exposure as
  well. There is a proliferation of new sites dedicated to condemning
  offenses ranging from bad parking (Caughtya.org) and leering
  (HollaBackNYC.com) to littering (LitterButt.com) and general bad behavior
  (RudePeople.com). One site documents locations where people have failed to
  pick up after their dogs. Capturing newspaper-stealing neighbors on video
  is also an emerging genre.

  Helping drive the exposis are a crop of entrepreneurs who hope to sell
  advertising and subscriptions. One site that lets people identify bad
  drivers is about to offer a $5 monthly service, for people to register
  several of their own plate numbers and receive notices if they are cited by
  other drivers. But the traffic and commercial prospects for many of the
  sites are so limited that clearly there is something else at work.

  The embrace of the Web to expose trivial transgressions in part represents
  a return to shame as a check on social behavior, says Henry Jenkins,
  director of the comparative media studies program at the Massachusetts
  Institute of Technology. Some academics believe shame became less powerful
  as a control over everyday interactions with strangers in all but very
  small neighborhoods or social groups, as people moved to big cities or
  impersonal suburbs where they existed more anonymously.

  The sites documenting minor wrongs are the flip side of an online
  vigilantism movement that tackles meatier social issues. Community
  organization Cop Watch Los Angeles encourages users to send in stories and
  pictures of people being brutalized or harassed by police, for posting on
  the Web. The governor of Texas plans to launch a site this year that will
  air live video of the border, in hopes that people will watch and report
  illegal crossings. In a trial run in November, the site received more than
  14,000 emails. Tips included spottings of individuals swimming in the Rio
  Grande, a person wearing a large white hat and a "wild" boy at the border.
  In China, Web postings have become a powerful social weapon, used to rally
  thousands of people to hound a man who allegedly had an affair with a
  married woman.

  An Anonymous Tip

  For people singled out, the sites can represent an unsettling form of
  street justice, with no due process. Chris Roth's driving skills have been
  roundly criticized online by self-anointed traffic monitors. "This man
  needs his license revoked," wrote one poster, who accused Mr. Roth of
  cutting in and out. Another charged him with driving on a shoulder and
  having the audacity to "flip off" an old lady who wouldn't let him cut in.

  Mr. Roth found the critiques when an anonymous writer added a comment to
  his MySpace profile in late November directing him to PlateWire, one of the
  handful of new sites devoted to bad driving. There, a user had posted Mr.
  Roth's license-plate information -- his vanity plate reads "IDRVFAST" --
  and complained about his reckless driving style. Subsequent posters found
  and listed his full name, cellphone number and link to his MySpace page, as
  well as comments like "big jerk" and "meathead." (He has no idea how they
  found his information.)

  "There is no accountability. You can just go online and say whatever you
  want whether it's factual or not," says the 37-year-old Mr. Roth, of
  Raleigh, N.C., who works in technology sales. He admits he is an impatient
  driver and speeds, but he has no plans to change his driving style based on
  posts by anonymous commentators. "Who are they to decide what is safe or
  not?" he says.

  If you type "ycantpark" into photo-sharing site Flickr, there are about 200
  photos of bad parking jobs at Yahoo Inc.'s Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters.
  The company says the posts were started anonymously around 2005 by
  employees disgruntled with the parking situation. During that year, Yahoo
  hired more than 2,100 new employees, and finding a parking space become
  difficult. "I don't want to have my car posted up there so I definitely
  think twice about how I park," says Yahoo spokeswoman Heidi Burgett.

  The digital age allows critics to quickly find a fair amount of information
  about their targets. One day last November, at about 11:30 a.m., a blog
  focused on making New York streets more bike-friendly posted the license
  plate number of an SUV driver who allegedly accelerated from a dead stop to
  hit a bicycle blocking his way.

  At 1:16 p.m., someone posted the registration information for the license
  plate, including the SUV owner's name and address. (The editor of the blog
  thinks the poster got the information from someone who had access to a
  license-plate look-up service, available to lawyers, private investigators
  and police.) At 1:31 p.m., another person added the owner's occupation, his
  business's name and his title. Ten minutes later, a user posted a link to
  an aerial photo of the owner's house. Within another hour, the posting also
  included the accused's picture and email address.

  The SUV's owner, Ian Goldman, the chief executive of Celerant Technology
  Corp. in the New York City borough of Staten Island, declined to comment
  for this article. According to an email exchange posted on the blog, Mr.
  Goldman said that he had lent the vehicle in question to a relative with
  "an urgent medical situation" and that he was not aware of any incident.
  The alleged victim has decided to drop the matter since the damage to the
  bicycle, which he was standing next to at the time, was under $20. Last
  month, Aaron Naparstek, editor of the blog, says he removed Mr. Goldman's
  home and email addresses from the site after receiving a "lawyerly cease
  and desist" email asking that the whole posting be deleted.

  Other sites have also received complaints asking that posts be removed.
  Most say they will remove identifying information like phone numbers or
  full names when it comes to their attention or if asked. Yet lawyers say
  alleged wrongdoers shamed online typically have little legal recourse under
  libel and privacy laws if the accusations in postings are true, if they are
  posters' opinions about behavior witnessed in a public place and if the
  personal information listed is available to the public. "It becomes very
  difficult when it comes to the shaming sites in terms of what you can do in
  creating a case," says Daniel Solove, an associate professor of law at
  George Washington University Law School, who is working on a book about
  gossiping, shaming and privacy on the Internet.

  Caughtya.org hosts pictures of cars illegally parked in handicapped spaces.
  (Other objects qualify, too; one photo from Plano, Texas, is called "Big
  Rubber Chicken parked in accessible parking spaces.") Playground snoops can
  log onto the five-month-old Isaw-yournanny.blogspot.com, where users have
  posted details about nannies committing misdeeds, like feeding children Ho

  Few Postings

  Some of the sites are attracting little attention. Caughtya.org lists fewer
  than 10 U.S. infractions, RudePeople.com has about six stories of rudeness
  and Irate-Driver.com has none.

  Many ask for donations to cover costs, but some owners are hoping to make
  money. Mark Buckman launched PlateWire in May after almost getting run off
  the road a few months earlier by several drivers, including one who was
  looking in his backseat and steering with his leg. The site now lists
  nearly 25,000 license-plate numbers, chastised for moves like tailgating
  with brights on and driving too slowly in the left lane. To drum up
  revenue, Mr. Buckman recently added advertising and an online store with
  branded merchandise. Users in about 15 states can also pay $2 to have a
  postcard sent to an offending driver, directing the accused to the site. He
  plans to launch another site this year that will allow people to rate and
  complain about local businesses and individuals. "If I can create jobs and
  create an empire that would be awesome, but my main goal is to make a Web
  site that can actually make real world changes," Mr. Buckman says.

  Yahoo photo site Flickr has an "I hate stupid people" group that focuses on
  shots of regular people parking or dressing badly, among other misdeeds. It
  has nearly 60 members, as does the similar "Jerks" group, for pictures of
  "neighbor cats pooping on your lawn" or SUVs parked in compact spots. On
  Google Inc.'s YouTube, users have contributed videos of minor wrongs, like
  people cutting in line. On the blogs, one poster refers to this new form of
  revenge as "blogslapping," a word that previously just referred to when one
  blogger criticizes another's blog.

  Caught on Tape

  After Tim Halberg's Santa Barbara [Calif.] News-Press didn't show up on his
  doorstep for six days straight last March, he grabbed his camera and
  launched a stakeout. He stayed up all night waiting for the newspaper to
  arrive. When it did, he attached a note declaring, "I'm watching you! Don't
  ever steal my paper again," and left it on the driveway. Then he waited
  with his front door open a crack to catch the thief. The robed culprit: His
  neighbor at the time, a man who looks to be in his 50s. Mr. Halberg
  captured him on video walking up to the paper, reading the note and walking

  Mr. Halberg never approached the neighbor about the issue directly, but he
  found four of the older newspapers in front of his house the next day. The
  26-year-old wedding photographer posted the video on YouTube, where it's
  been viewed more than 850 times.

  Online shaming is happening across the world, with several well-publicized
  cases in China. Last fall, one blogger posted photos and the license plate
  number of a Beijing driver who got out of his car and threw aside the
  bicycle of a woman blocking his way. The driver was quickly identified by
  Internet vigilantes and soon apologized on television for his behavior. And
  on a popular Web site last year, after one husband accused a student of
  having an affair with his wife, other users posted the student's phone
  number and other personal details. After that, groups of people showed up
  at his university and parents' home, according to some reports. The student
  denied the affair.

  Some suggest that public shaming could be used here as a tool for social
  betterment. In a paper in the November issue of the New York University Law
  Review, Lior Strahilevitz, a law professor at the University of Chicago,
  suggested that roads would be safer if every car had a "How's My Driving?"
  placard on the bumper asking other drivers to report bad behavior.

  The neighbor-as-Big-Brother approach is already being deployed offline.
  Since August, spectators at Cincinnati Bengals home games have been able to
  call 513-381-JERK to complain about rowdy fans. When a call comes in,
  security zooms in on the area with stadium cameras, confirms there's a
  problem and dispatches security. Initially, the hotline was receiving more
  than 100 calls a game, about 75% of which were crank calls. Reports were
  recently down to about 40 a game, with less than 25% being crank calls.

  Posting a snarky message online is often safer than confronting bad
  behavior face to face. "You never know how people are going to react in
  person," says Scott Terry, 32, who works in advertising in Chicago. Last
  spring, he posted a photo on Flickr of a "cell phone bus yapper" who
  disrupted his morning commute. The caption: "Can't you use your inside

  For others, posting can be revenge enough. In April, Grace Davis, 51, a
  stay-at-home mom in Santa Cruz, Calif., captured a "pushy customer" wearing
  a Hermhs-like scarf and black sunglasses while ordering around sales people
  at Molinari Delicatessen in San Francisco with words like "gimme." Ms.
  Davis posted the photo online and wrote "Not nice! No fresh Molinari
  raviolis for you, madam" over the woman's face. "I can just happily walk
  away," says Ms. Davis, "because as we say in New Age Santa Cruz, 'It's out
  in the universe now.'"

  Trivial Pursuits

  Many Web sites -- some general, some specific -- catalog everyday misdeeds
  committed by average people. Here is a sampling:




  Bad driving

  PlateWire.com; AboveAverageDriver.com; Irate-Driver.com; BadDriving.com

  On these sites, users can report bad drivers and cite license plate
  numbers. At some, people can also report good drivers, though far fewer do
  so. At least eight PlateWire users have chastised themselves online,
  including one in Nevada last month who apologized for cutting another
  driver off in a post titled "Telling on Myself."

  Bad or illegal parking

  MyBikelane.com; Caughtya.org; youparklikeana**hole.com

  Parking on the sidewalk, taking up two spaces, cramping in another driver
  -- they're all there. IParkLikeAnIdiot.com doesn't show many photos, but it
  says it sold about 30,000 bumper stickers displaying the site address last
  year, up from 10,000 in 2005.

  Leaving dog droppings

  Flickr.com; YouTube.com

  Photos and videos on the two sites have captions like "bad owner." One
  YouTube chronicle, "a nice doggy's bad owner leaves a landmine on Dean
  Street in Brooklyn," has been viewed nearly 1,300 times since it went up in

  Leering, whistling at women

  HollaBackNYC.com and other HollaBack sites

  Women can post pictures and videos of men who leer or make comments like
  "hey baby, wanna make love??!!" HollaBackNYC.com launched in 2005, inspired
  by one woman who photographed a lewd man on the subway. Now, there are at
  least 14 other local sites in the U.S. and Canada.



  Site doesn't post license plate numbers of littering drivers, but it does
  act. Reported plateholders in participating states (Pennsylvania, Texas and
  North Carolina) get a notice -- the site sends the details to the state,
  which then mails a letter to the vehicle owner. For other states, the site
  may send an email to the governor.

  Loud talking on a cellphone

  Flickr.com; RudePeople.com

  Flickr abounds with pictures of people talking loudly on cellphones or
  displaying bad cell etiquette. Could you be there? Photos have titles and
  comments like "TalksTooLoud," "Loud talker" and "Chatty McBlabsalot."

  Yelling at children


  Five-month-old site has about 190 sightings so far, and most relate tales
  of bad behavior. Two more sites for nannies -- Isawyourmommy.blogspot.com
  and Isawnannysemployer.blogspot.com -- have since been launched in reaction.

  R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
  The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
  44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
  "... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
  [predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
  experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
  Clips mailing list
  Clips at philodox.com

--- end forwarded text

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

More information about the cypherpunks-legacy mailing list