My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

Relevant links:

Archive

why my robbery matters :: essential questions about blogging and social networks

Identity theft is supposedly the #1 crime in America right now, according to all of my creditors. Thousands (?millions?) of people have their identity (and associated materials) stolen every year. Yet, it is really hard to track down these criminals and most law enforcement has to focus on violent crimes. I mean, who really has time to go after petty criminals who used someone’s credit card to buy burgers?

Yet, this situation interests me beyond my personal investment. Don’t get me wrong.. on a personal level, i’m pretty pissed that these guys had the gaul to come to my party and steal my shit. But on a meta-level, there are some interesting questions.

If the United States really is a small world, the people that i know should know people [iterate to on average 5.5] that know these guys, right? If blogs can extend beyond the echo-chamber, shouldn’t we be able to use blogs to reach the people who know these guys?

We’re living in a society that is quickly becoming camera-phone enabled. We’re worried about privacy when these pictures are broadcast, understandably. But can we use the breaks in privacy to demand legal justice? We often talk about how the Interweb is affecting the regulation of social norms… Can the connected community around the Interweb also enforce law?

Already, through this situation, i’ve seen the power of care. I’ve seen amazing people who i barely know act up to say this isn’t cool and do what they can to acquire information, spread the word, repost those pictures, etc. I’ve heard from people who’ve gone through similar situations. I’m in awe of the strangers who are being supportive, of the number of people who have experienced similar crap, with no justice.

Can we go beyond support? Can the Interweb/blogosphere actually demand justice on a personal level? And if i can demand justice for me, can it demand justice for others in a similar predicament? Can citizens take control over the thieves?

Having your identity materials stolen is very disempowering. Having to wait for cops to maybe consider trying to solve this problem is depressing. I don’t know if anything will come out of my broadcasting this situation, but it sure is empowering to try. And it really makes me wonder just how powerful the Interweb can be.

Useful links:
Pictures of the thieves
Craigslist missed connections post

Feel free to spread the word and help me identify these people, particularly if you have contacts in Austin.

Update: I forgot to note that i feel badly for misusing the term robbery here. I hadn’t realized that robbery and theft were not synonymous until the discussion emerged from this post. More precisely, i didn’t realize that robbery had to involve force, which this incident did not.

Print Friendly

12 comments to why my robbery matters :: essential questions about blogging and social networks

  • As much as I genuinely symphasise with you about your anger for these robbers, I question whether the “connected society” can ever act as such a formidable security measure as you suggest.

    Firstly, I think you were lucky to get photographs of the perpetrators, and that stands you in good stead. But this is not going to be an option for most people who fall prey of identity theft.

    Secondly, since you have a pretty high profile in blogspace and this is the first time someone high profile (at all?) has posted this kind of thing, then the novelty may well carry it to a solution (I REALLY hope it does!).

    I question it because although 5.5 links should make for plenty of people to spread the word – it is not word that needs spreading – it’s images. The question is, can the images be transferred from webspace to offline space easily. And I don’t think that it’s easy enough to do. There’s the chance that people may visit your site to check out the photos, or one of the many sites that have reposted the photos, but I think this chance is a lot less than the chance of people talking to their friends about it, and spreading the word of the robbery, but not necesarily having them look at the pictures.

    It may work this time, due to novelty, but I’m not so sure that this is a global solution.

  • You have probably done this already, but can your friend post the info in the public spaces at her development? It seems reasonable to me to assume that these people will be better recognized in the 3D spaces where they live/work/play than in online circles. Whenever I am reminded of the reality that the majority of people out there use the internet as a utility rather than a way of life. However, there is validity to that, and whatever way you are able to mobilize people offline will probably yield greater results.

    Perhaps your friends located in Austin can post flyers on the bulletin boards outside Rudy’s and other popular places that have a public “community announcement” space. Perhaps a back page ad in the Chronicle?

    I do agree with the power of online networks. However, in this case, I think that the most effective way to leverage that power is to mobilize your online network to work offline (where practical).

  • I get pretty scared by personal justice being meted out, on the day-to-day physical level. I get more scared by mob justice being amplified by networks seemingly unfettered by precedent, context or, in most cases, any serious reflection. I get even more scared by those networks appearing to be shaped by preferential attachment and the homophily you have spoken about here before I believe. “Smartmob” justice and panopticon societies might not be something that we would be wise to pursue.

  • I get pretty scared by personal justice being meted out, on the day-to-day physical level. I get more scared by mob justice being amplified by networks seemingly unfettered by precedent, context or, in most cases, any serious reflection. I get even more scared by those networks appearing to be shaped by preferential attachment and the homophily you have spoken about here before I believe. “Smartmob” justice and panopticon societies might not be something that we would be wise to pursue.

  • Matt finding the perps is not the same thing as dispensing justice. Are you insinuating that if the perps are located Danah will take a shotgun and blow their tiny heads in? Doesn’t it seem more reasonable that she’ll notify the police?

  • robbery and the net as amplifier

    i’ve been following a thread about a fairly well-known blogger who was recently robbed. she has been chronicling some of her feelings (see why my robbery matters), and also pursuing the perpetrators, online. it makes me wonder about a few…

  • Le blogosphre comme outil de justice

    Trouv sur Jean-Pierre Cloutier : Le blogue La semaine dernire, Danah Boyd se fait drober ses cartes de crdit, ses papiers d’identit et son tlphone cellulaire alors qu’elle tait une soire entre amis. Six inconnus se prsentent, disent avoir…

  • a. kell

    “Can we go beyond support? Can the Interweb/blogosphere actually demand justice on a personal level? And if i can demand justice for me, can it demand justice for others in a similar predicament? Can citizens take control over the thieves?”
    Just a comment, on the issue “beyond personal involvement” I am affraid the answer is: justice for me: yes, justice for others: yes or no. What you call the Interweb/blogosphere runs on popularity, ascribed social position, whuffie, whuppie, call it whatever you want: it’s a space that has no sense of wider, collective social strata, classes, what you will. There is the concept of the ‘A-List’, but even this group cannot be defined differently than by enumeration. So what I am saying, is that there is radical lack of equality of position. There is no sense of being a “fellow blogospherer”, no solidarity beyond the thin tracks of your personal network. No wider context or sense of identity to resort to.
    yes, there is a possibly that you will be helped by a stranger, from outside your friendster-blog zone. But then, let’s remember, blogs aren’t evenly linked and the popularity factor in social life is paralleled by the link-to statistic in network terms. So at technology level, some have a higher chance than others for pulling in amiable strangers to their cause.

    If this works out for you, and you catch one of the blurry photo-men, or someone else, and hand over to the police, what a story this will be. A true classic of bloglore. But personally, I would frown at any ‘scientific’ generalizations and would feel annoyed reading another case study, this time mapping the beginning of a new era of grassroots, blog-enabled citizen law-enforcement-support for the XXI century.

  • na

    Sorry Danah, your story does not add up at various levels. In contrast to someone who suggested earlier that one of the guys may have come unto you unwelcome and now you are seeking revenge, I actually think this is the opposite case (looking at your picture and the posted pictures of your ROBBERS – as you keep insisting that they are your ROBBERS I will call them the same way too).

    I think one of them stole your heart, when you were too drunk too be able to discriminate right from wrong. Sorry, I modify my assumption: HE ROBBED YOU OF YOUR HEART. Now you are going out of your way to find him.

    Look at it this way: at least you did not get pregnant.

  • jk

    I was going to note that in some ways the trend towards non-anonymity in society is harkening back to days of old where everyone knew everyone in small towns and so-called anonymous crime was rare but Na’s post has so thoroughly disgusted me that I have to digress. Here is why we have rape shield laws, and in this case, danah’s virtue is being called into question when all that happened was she was ROBBED at a party. Na, you are SCUM. For you to even jump to the conclusion that a woman who is demanding justice for being robbed somehow is really complaining about being romantically spurned or that she slept with, what, all the guys who ripped her off(?) leads me to believe you’re exactly the type of person who would consider perpetuating this type of behavior. Next, you’ll say she deserved to get ripped off because she was dressed provacatively and worked these guys into a frenzy and they just HAD to do something about it. Jesus. What century are we living in? If a guy were making the same complaint this thread would have never surfaced.

  • if this had been turned around, 6 white guys coming to an all white party where no one knew them, first off the wouldnt have been welcome, and second, if they did get it they would have been beaten and or robbed. moral of story-lock up/hide your shit and be more careful of strangers! I highly doubt these guys will be caught this way and if they are caught, actually be prosecuted.

  • billybob

    whoops, I meant 6 whites at an all black party.