Wirelessness and Shamelessness
Community Displays at Common Grounds Coffee Company

Cybershaming and cybercompassion

Don Park reports on a woman whose dog defecated on a train in Korea and refused to clean up the mess. 

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It began in a subway train with a girl whose dog made a mess on the train floor. When nearby elders told her to clean up the mess, she basically told them to f[***] off. A nearby enraged netizen then took pictures of her and posted it, without any masking, on a popular website which started a nationwide witchhunt.

Within hours, she was labeled gae-ttong-nyue (dog-shit-girl) and her pictures and parodies were everywhere. Within days, her identity and her past were revealed. Request for information about her parents and relatives started popping up and people started to recognize her by the dog and the bag she was carrying as well as her watch, clearly visible in the original picture. All mentions of privacy invasion were shouted down with accusations of being related to the girl. The common excuse for their behavior was that the girl doesn't deserve privacy.

I remember reading something a while ago that attributed the increase in crime in the USA to a decrease in shame, arguing that laws and law enforcement alone are not enough to deter crime, and that the entire community needs to make sure that transgressors know when they are engaging in unacceptable behavior.  [I can't find that article now, but other discussions of this topic can be found here and here.]

CBS News ran a recent story about an online system for tracking sexual offenders in Bryan, Texas, which not only posts photos of transgressors, but shows their residences on a map, and a nationwide system, SCAN USA (for Safe Community Action Network), that will send registered users a notification if a released sexual offender moves into their neighborhood.  The Korean story represents a lowering of the threshold, both with respect to the seriousness of the crime and the level of institutional support required.  [Cyberbullying might represent a further lowering of thresholds, to what I consider to be socially unacceptable levels.]

On the one hand, I think it is beneficial whenever members of a community take a greater interest -- and stake -- in the people, places and events that affect their community.  On the other hand, I've been wrestling with questions regarding my own judgment and shame, toward myself and others.  I want to become less judgmental and more compassionate.

It is interesting that among the photos that were posted about the Korean incident was one of an elderly man cleaning up the mess.  I don't know whether that man had -- or expressed -- judgments about the woman, but I think that he is modeling a crucial element for stronger communities: a willingness of members to fill in the gaps for those who are unwilling or unable to take responsibility for their own actions (or, in this case, the actions of their dogs) ... practicing random or purposeful acts of kindness.

I just read a passage last night in "Field Notes on the Compassionate Life" on an experiment in which children behaved more generously after watching an adult acting generously, even when there is a "single exposure" to such an act ... and even when several months elapse.  I know that I often find kindness contagious; for example, I am more likely to allow another driver to merge onto a highway when someone else has earlier shown me kindness in allowing me to merge into a lane.  I wonder how far this kind of cumulative effect might carry our society.

And, getting back to the original topic, I wonder whether posting photos of acts of kindness and compassion might trigger an outpouring of approbation and gratitude ... and further acts of kindess and compassion, in online and/or physical communities -- a virtuous cycle of cybercompassion.

[via BoingBoing]

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