A very interesting article in The Village Voice and the Guardian discusses “Holla Back New York City,” (see below) a Web site devoted to posting photos and text of people who harass others on the street.
As the site says, “Holla Back NYC empowers New Yorkers to holla back at street harassers, whether you’re commuting, lunching, partying, dancing, walking, chilling, drinking or sunning, you’d have the right to feel safe, confident, and sexy, without being the object of some turd’s fantasy. So stop walkin’ on and holla back: Send us pics of street harassers!”
If you read look at the site and read the two articles, you’ll see the site includes a variety of photos and text, including pictures of a guy exposing himself on a fire escape.
Camera phone empowerment
The Village Voice article says:
“Sam Carter, one of Holla Back's founders, gets almost as animated talking about the camera phone technology that enabled Tex's online debut as he does about the notion of fighting street harassment itself. The technology Holla Back employs is easy to operate, cheap, and ubiquitous, and the decision to harness it for the site was a ‘no-brainer,’ Carter says.
“With one click, a woman can seize a kind of power usually unavailable to her by snapping a photo of the macho man on the sidewalk who moved in too close, saying, ‘Girl, I can smell you’ — to name one real-life example. With another click, she can send that photo to Holla Back, where Carter, the site's unofficial webmaster, and others upload it to the Web for worldwide viewing.
“The power derived from witnessing, documenting — invading privacy even just a bit — is typically associated with the federal government, the NYPD, and big corporations, Carter points out. Holla Back, says Carter, demonstrates that ‘you can fight the oppressive network of surveillance by documenting things yourself. . . . We all can walk around with cameras as opposed to cops or government having them in the city.’"
The site has generated a fair number of articles including a BBC interview, and a fair amount of controversy. Is Holla Back NYC a valid way citizens may fight back against harassers or is it cyber-vigilantism that does more harm than good?
What are the chances that innocent people could be photographed? What are the chances someone would set up, for example, a “Take Photos of the Illegal Immigrants” or “Take a Photo of the Muslin Terrorist” moblog where the potential for abuse is obvious.
Bill Brown, founder of the anti-surveillance activist group Surveillance Camera Players, doesn’t like “Holla Back NYC. He says in The Village Voice, “You're opening the floodgates to a universal degradation, reinforcing mutual suspicion and paranoia. I'm going through your trash, you're going through mine.
“I'm taking pictures of you, you're taking pictures of me. And all in the name of keeping people safe from some pretty soft crimes."
Bad for society?
Brown says even if a person is guilty, if his photo is circulated around the Web, “people will believe the person guilty before he has been found so. A person could be tracked down, even beaten up — and all of this will take place outside the normal channels."
Daniel Solove, George Washington University Law School professor and author of The Digital Person, says in The Village Voice that some of the picture takers say they are helping to enforce society’s norms. “[B]but what about when it's a norm you don't like? Anybody could decide to put up pictures of everyone who goes into a strip club, or abortion clinics, to make a point about abortion.
“What about a religious group that posts pictures of women wearing too provocative clothing?"
That’s true, but then citizens could take photos of people taking the photos!
Difficult issues, but…
These are difficult issues but overall I believe camera phones provide positive value. If some jerk is harassing me on the street, a photo of him or her on a Web site is fine with me — just as long as what’s posted and written is accurate.
Some 500 million people around the world probably have camera phones, as a Future Image report noted, and by the end of this decade perhaps that figure will double. FYI: According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are now more than 6.5 billion people on earth and 6.8 billion predicted for 2010.
A significant percentage (I’d like to see the figures) of camera phones also will have video recording capabilities.
So one in 6.8 people (more or less) on earth will have camera phones in 2010…if the predictions are accurate.
These camera phone issues aren’t going away and deserve further study. Wireless imaging is changing the world. I’d love to see a “Wireless Imaging Institute.”