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The UK's premier new media criminologist - on Twitter @criminology4u, facebook and blogging on Criminology in Public and Sports Criminology.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Whilst I still possess a ‘typewriter’: an engagement with Chagnon and Lind’s ‘tale of burglary’.

Judge Dredd is a fictional character like Dixon of Dock Green, but his antithesis.  Dredd incorporates the powers of police, prosecution, judge, jury and, occasionally, executioner.  So a bit like your parents or headteacher.  Dredd is popular with fans and his commercial franchisers but has also attracted scholarly attention (for instance, Film, law and the delivery of justice: The case of Judge Dredd and the disappearing courtroom by Steve Greenfield and Guy Osborn @prof_guy_osborn).

Nicholas Chagnon (@nickchagnon) and Meda Chesney–Lind (@drmeda) don’t mention Dredd in their “Someone’s been in the house:” a tale of burglary and trial by media but I do, and I drag trolling in too.  

I like the article I mean only to riff on it not critique it.  

The abstract says:

This paper examines a case of trial by media revolving around a routine property crime in Hawaii. Trial by media is an emerging concept in crime media research; it illuminates how 21st-century mediascapes facilitate dynamic and interactive representations of crime, which may create spaces for alternative justice processes. Here we examine the impact of one victim’s efforts to identify a house burglar by sharing surveillance photos of the crime itself on the Internet, and the ensuing consequences. We chart how images of this relatively minor property crime circulated on the Internet through social media and eventually became a significant story for local corporate news. We also explore the consequences of this process, both in terms of restorative justice and surveillance research. Specifically, we document the way that social media presents opportunities outside of the criminal justice process for redress of grievances. We also, though, document how social media can create a forum for both racist and hate speech around criminals and those perceived to be criminal, and finally, we consider the ambiguous implications of using personal surveillance technologies as primary crime prevention strategies.

Before engaging with some of this I want to illustrate the advantages of blogging over journal publishing; and in this case render it an advantage for journal publishing.  I am able to find and link to this Hawaiian news website which has more detail and an unpixellated image of the offender and this is the very blogpage that the burglary victim first mentions the burglary in (from 2009) and this later one (from 2011) which talks of a ‘burglary spree’.  Chignon and Lind mention analysing a facebook page for comments. As you can see it’s not very active but given to mentions of burglary, crime and suspicion of crime.  The most exciting thing about the area is that it’s where President Obama christmases.  Of course, I am now using the internet to blog this then subsequently tweet, Facebook and Google plus it in the hope that you will read my work now but also theirs.  It worked for Nicolas Carrier. Given the topic it also seems most appropriate to discuss it online.

Now I want to pick up on: ‘trial by media’, ‘moral panics’ (one of their keywords), restorative justice and surveillance.

‘trial by media’

They cite Greer and McLaughlin on the trial by media of the McCann’s but note their smaller scale case that their burglar was tried by his community after being shamed on line (se RJ later).  The online trolling of feminists might be seen as a form of trial by social media but of the more medieval kind - the ducking of witches or trial by ordeal.  You might object that such trolling is a crime not justice.  Here I’m trying to think what the troll might be thinking.  They are justifying themselves (possibly Dredd-like) as upholding a patriarchal or racial order.  I believe a feminist take on this is possible but in researching this blog found Simon Jenkins arguing in respect of holding politicians to account that ‘Trial by media is a serviceable variant of the medieval ordeal’.  So your view may depend on who is in the dock or clutching a hot metal bar.

As an alternative to trial by media I offer ‘electronic stocks or pillory’ where the glocal trolls can throw insults and mouldy vegetables or stones at those paraded for our edutainment. 

OK on ‘moral panics’ I do want to add a little critique.  As I recently blogged:

I believe that to follow Stan requires a parsimonious definition of a ‘moral panic’ and that one handy rule might be that if the media use the term it isn’t one.

I think I want to amend it to say, 'when anyone uses the term'.  I think they mean media frenzy, hype or bubble rather than a strict Cohenian ‘moral panic’ I get no sense that any burglars were created - other than in people’s imagining and then only in imagining who their real burglar was.

restorative justice

The community, including the expanded online community, was mobilised. As they say:

Over a five-day period, the photos from the blog went viral on social media, were picked up by corporate news (both locally and nationally), and generated wide-ranging, online discussion. Additionally, the couple received roughly half a dozen tips from four states (including a number of false identifications). Within two days, though, the perpetrator was identified, and his family returned the stolen property.
But also it harvested a good deal of hate, stereotypical and punitive speech and calls for Dredd-like action that moves straight from offence to punishment.  It also attracted ‘humor’ and even shaming of the victims for failing to use the official channels (insufficiently Dredd-like?).


As an early writer on CCTV and occasional peer reviewer for Surveillance and Society I clearly have a theoretical interest in these matters but I was also piqued by the mention that the blogger makes of installing the CCTV system to check on the cat.  I feed a friend’s cat occasionally whilst they are away.  I have got used to dealing with the burglar alarm (note to burglars reading, I don’t currently have one) and was only slightly bemused when a small camera was added to the system.  I am used to one of them pulling out their smartphone and treating me a to a view of their kitchen and guess they may one day spot me in their kitchen feeding their cat (I will be sharing this blog with them on social media).

The article has some interesting things to say about surveillance, including sousveillance but the most significant thing is what they don’t say.  And this has caused me some ethical concerns.

Earlier I adverted to the blog.  I had found this because on reading the intro I searched for the news story and found the blog.  On reading further in the article I found they refer to the blog and see they cite (Lind I (2014).  The blog clearly refers to the wife’s name being ‘Meda’ so I am guessing that she, the criminologist co-author, was the burglary victim.  Obviously criminologists are victims of crime.  James Q Wilson might chuckle to see she had her powerbook stolen.  But why does she not mention it?  Academic conventionality or some sense of privacy? 

So I am worried that I have now breached her privacy but hope in doing so I’ve illustrated further the polymorphousness of the internet.

A search reveals no stories under ‘Criminologist Burgled’ which suggests her local media is missing a trick. 

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