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Publish first, police second… is that how it works?

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The other evening I watched some of the Channel 4 documentary Coppers, in which UK police officers were sharing their disquiet about how people they deal with seem to phone the police rather than deal with their problems themselves.

Could it be that there is another contradictory trend, for people to take evidence of crimes to their social networks first, when the police might be more appropriate?

Two cases spring to mind. One, which was a tabloid cause celebré this morning, is the ten-year-old boy who took a picture of a mugger leaving the scene of a crime.

According to Th Sun, he…

He snapped Royal as he fled on a bike then posted the pic online. Cops identified and nicked Royal who was fined in Darlington, Co Durham.

Why not call the police? And the police “praised Alex’s ‘quick thinking'”. Really?

The other was the cat-in-the-wheelie-bin lady, who was caught on someone’s private CCTV committing an act of animal cruelty. The footage was posted to YouTube and then a web community took up the cause of identifying the woman (something they did very quickly).

It may be that the socially acceptable behaviours that emerges, that becomes a norm, is that we post everything to the web and then direct the police to it. At some point this is likely to incite real-world vigilantism, at some point this is likely to compromise evidence in a case, or the ability of a court to hold an impartial jury trial.

: : Lastly, a ten-year-old on Twitter – really? I hear parents wondering whether to let their kids use Facebook when they are 13 (the legal limit), but Twitter? Never… There’s a few things about this story which see odd.