Japera’s World

Response #4 Bill of Rights

Posted on: February 17, 2009

I have lost three phones, and had to shell out money to repair two very expensive ones. So, I too screamed foul play at the opening story espoused in Clay Shirky’s book, “Here Comes Everybody.” The story chronicles the exploits of a women and her friend Evan’s desperate pursuit to return to her, her very expensive lost…then stolen cellular phone. The women in NYC takes a cab ride and after exiting the cab realizes too late, that she left her phone in the car. She chalks it up as lost until she goes to the phone company to retrieve the information from her phone on the company’s server. To her surprise, the person who stole her phone, Sasha, had downloaded pictures of herself. On top of that, they were able to decipher her email address and immediately ask for the phone to be returned. Sasha does not. In the end, Evan, begins social media warfare by using his webpage to incite a mass of followers to speak out against “the injustices of cell phone theft” as well as the police’s reluctance to assist in this crime.

In the beginning, I was excited that Evan and his friend were able to retrieve the lost phone by bringing attention to the situation. I was  even more excited that they were able to “stick it” to the police who were, in essence, too lazy to do anything about it. However, I began to feel ashamed of myself as Shirky explained the dynamics of the situation.

Evan, a well to do, white, New Yorker -because of his status- had a job that allowed him to spend multiple hours manning a website in efforts to retrieve the phone. While Sasha, the teenage, unwed Hispanic mother, did not. On his website, Evan allowed for offensive behavior taunting Sasha’s race, class, suggesting  violence against her and even spouting sexual innuendos. The question Shirky asks us at the conclusion of his story is “Do we want a world in which a well-off grown-up can use this kind of leverage to get a teenager arrested, as well as named and shamed on a global platform, for what was a fairly trivial infraction?”

The story and therefore the answer is no longer as simple. What occurred here was “the spirit of the masses.” Evan provided a forum whereby hundreds and thousands of people incited themselves virtually. Where in real life this could spark a riot, online is started a message board overflowing with abusive and racist speech.

America’s founding forefathers cautioned against the danger of the collective masses and for that reason protected against such in our Constitution. Why shouldn’t the same guidelines be applicable to our virtual world. An online Bill of Rights can serve as a guide (by no means should it be law) in an effort to avoid the destructive behavior online. Because let’s be real, it’s far too easy to get caught up in the masses, even virtually.

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