However, there lies the issue. Boing Boing, quite sensibly, added an "allegedly" to their first story about this incident. While I'm 100% comfortable with everything up to Thao Nguyen posting the image in her Flickr account (which is her right as the person taking the shot), I'm less comfortable with the media reportage thereafter. Sure, this case seems very straightforward: flasher guy is bad/evil/deranged. But, what if "the flasher" has a mental illness of some sort and didn't understand what he was doing? What if there are other extreme circumstances behind his action? Now, let me state clearly: I would never wish this situation on anyone and am sure the trauma Thao Nguyen felt is very real and should not be in any way trivialised. However, beyond this image, nothing else is know about the guy on the train. Now, I recognise that this is one of those cases where if it was left up to the police and law, it's very possible nothing would get done. Police in NY seem to be very busy most of the time and this sort of abuse may very well not register very high on their priority list. So, Thao Nguyen's actions may very well have sped up justice in a particular way. Indeed, in this very specific case, Thao's actions and those of the media seem very just and upright.
Before getting too drawn into the story, lets look a few steps into the future. Pictures, as we all know, can easily be manipulated. Pictures tell 1000 words, but which thousand can be readily manipulated by whoever takes or contextualises the image. I'm not suggesting that Thao Nguyen did either of these things. But, if this becomes a trend and a cameraphone-enabled trial-by-Flickr gains a odd sort of credibility, the potential to abuse such a system is virtually limitless. What if after a nasty breakup photos that were taken with consent within the bounds of a relationship were re-contextualised and posted online as a form of revenge? What if a particularly effective photoshop effort was posted online? It's probably the case that either of these cases would be shown to be untrue give time, many people would probably never see such a clarification/retraction. Newspapers, if they pick up the story, have a nasty trend of giving accusations page one treatment and retractions two lines on the bottom of page forty-seven. So, while I commend Thao Nguyen for her quick thinking and wish her every luck in prosecuting the man who appears strongly to have abused her, I simply want to add a few words of warning to the digital ether and ask you to think about the ramifications of digital images becoming a form of citizen "justice". We need to be wary in such cases, or our new digital resources may indeed open a seductive but ultimately unjust hi-tech pandora's box.
[Tags: citizenmedia | flickr | cameraphone | smartmobs | power | politics | justice]