Commentary

Public Shaming on Facebook, California Edition

 Facebook Police

A few months ago police in the town of Evesham, NJ made headlines with a social media strategy which includes what is basically a Facebook perp walk -- that is, posting mug shots from recent arrests online, complete with identifying information and their alleged transgressions. Predictably the policy stirred some controversy, with critics warning against the potential for inappropriate photo-tagging, but that hasn't deterred Evesham police from continuing the Facebook photo flagellation. Now police in other parts of the country are getting in on the act.

Police in Huntington Beach, Calif. are said to be considering posting names and mug shots of drunk drivers on the city's Facebook page, per a suggestion from the City Council. One advocate, councilman Devin Dwyer, told the Los Angeles Times that the local newspaper, The Huntington Beach Independent, had stopped publishing drunk driving reports but argued that public shaming remains an important tactic for discouraging drunk driving.

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Meanwhile the seaside town certainly has more than its fair share of drunks behind the wheel: in 2009 there were 274 alcohol-related collisions and 1,687 drunk-driving arrests, making it the third most DUI arrested city in California -- and those numbers are actually down slightly from 303 collisions and 1,729 arrests in 2008.

Zooming out, the state of California has also seen a dramatic increase in the number of DUI arrests over the last decade, from 176,490 in 2001 to 218,841 in 2008, as the number of DUI convictions increased from 140,853 to 162,046. Over the same period the number of DUI-related fatalities increased slightly from 1,308 to 1,355, while mandatory suspensions and revocations skyrocketed from 231,127 to 392,319.

In a finding which holds out hope for the Facebook shaming strategy, the average age of California DUI offenders was 30 years old in 2007 -- square in Facebook territory. It turns out some of the biggest increases in DUI rates are among females ages 18-24: in San Diego County, the number of cases involving young women driving under the influence which resulted in injury or fatality increased 124% from 2008-2009, from 49 to 110 incidents (however, males still constituted over 80% of all DUI arrests in California in 2007).

It seems like shaming would be a particularly effective tactic against transgressors who spend a lot of time on Facebook. Of course, knowing kids today maybe that Facebook mugshot would be a point of pride.

3 comments about "Public Shaming on Facebook, California Edition".
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  1. Lana Mcgilvray from Datran Media, November 17, 2010 at 5:04 p.m.

    Very interesting. I wish I could "dislike" this as an option.

    As private becomes increasingly more public, I've definitely noticed more of this type of public shaming across media, including the sale of a "Busted” newspaper in one city - just a traditional newspaper featuring public mug shots for sale for a dollar or two.

    It's almost a reversal of what Foucault predicted when he chronicled the evolution of crime and punishment and discussed the shift from public floggings to less obvious modes of punishment like digital monitoring devices. Certainly an interesting twist.

    Considering the age of some of the offenders, the high prevalence of wrongful convictions across the country and the widely publicized suicides connected to social bullying, I can't say I am a fan of this. Bad idea city.

  2. Brad Stewart from Molecule Inc., November 17, 2010 at 6:05 p.m.

    Police are punishing people before they've been convicted?

  3. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, November 18, 2010 at 5:13 p.m.

    Judging by some pictures and comments on pictures on Facebook from people in this demo, this type of shame would not deter them. They might be more concerned about whether they look "hot" in their posted mug shots.

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