Street Justice

A rather interesting chain of events chronicled on my friend Aaron Naparstek’s site Streetsblog this holiday week.

Apparently, a cyclist had a run-in with a driver, who then ran over his bike and drove off. But not before the cyclist took down the driver’s license plate number, which he later posted online at Streetsblog, a site dedicated to easing traffic, making more room for pedestrians and cyclists, and other bottom-up street-related activism.

From there, though, it was only a matter of hours before members of the site tracked down the name and address of the car’s owner:

PLATE: CEY6110 TYPE: PASSENGER VIN#: 1J8HR58285C723315
REGISTRANT INFORMATION:
(NAME WITHELD BY RUSHKOFF.COM) ,N DOB: 04/15/70 SEX: M
750 ARMSTRONG AVE COUNTY: RICH
STATEN ISLAND NY ZIP: 10308
05 JEEP GREY SUBN WEIGHT:004628
FUEL: GAS CYL: 08
EXPIRES: 10/28/08 VALID: 09/13/06
MI#: G15440 09379 942826-70

Then someone else searched out the fellow’s bio:

Celerant Technology, a privately held Corporation, providing high quality, advanced retail management software systems to retail organizations. Celerant CEO, (NAME WITHEOLD), comes from a retail management software background and founded Celerant Technology to build an entirely new type of retail system from the ground-up….Celerant Technology’s headquarters are located in Staten Island, New York with satellite offices in Georgia and Oklahoma.

And someone else posted a linke to a photo of his house at that moment from MSN’s realtime Google-earth-like application, Local.live.com, in order to see if the car was yet back in his driveway (it wasn’t). When last I checked, the group was evaluating an email that cyclist received back from the car owner, claiming he was not driving the car at the time, and the person who was had been on his way to a medical emergency.

Honestly, this is fascinating stuff. 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.

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