Vancouver Riots: The Shame and the Blame Spread Online 

As soon as a police task force was created to punish the Vancouver looters and rioters, photos and videos have poured in, people have turned themselves in, and angry online citizens have gone after alleged perpetrators on Facebook and blogs

As soon as the Vancouver Police Department set up a special task force with more than 30 officers to find those responsible for the criminal rampage in downtown Vancouver that followed the Stanley Cup final on Wednesday night, photos and videos have flooded the department's server, looters and rioters have been turning themselves in, and angry online citizens have gone after alleged perpetrators on Facebook and blogs.

There’s been no shortage of witnesses willing to point out rioters responsible for the post-Stanley Cup mayhem in Vancouver on Wednesday night, according to the Globe and Mail. The mayor of Vancouver put out a request for information on his Twitter feed, and the Police Department said the volume of evidentiary photo submissions from the public temporarily overwhelmed its website on Thursday, flooded with nearly 2,000 videos, photos and other tips related to the post-game destruction.

Six rioters have turned themselves into the police, the Province reported Friday, with one rioter involved in the chaos facing criminal charges. A 17-year-old Burnaby teen — who can't be identified because of his age — turned himself in after images of him looting a Vancouver store during the riot were posted online.

Shaming and blaming have spread like wildfire on the Internet, as anger over the mayhem deepens in the city of Vancouver. The Internet has become not just a helper in bringing Vancouver rioters to justice, but a virtual courtroom as well, with people tried and found guilty in front of thousands of online citizens, the Vancouver Observer reported. Since the riots, blogs and Facebook pages such as Facebook Riot Pics: Post Your Photos and Vancouver Riot: Tag the Hooligans have encouraged people to post photos of and identify people smashing windows, tipping over urinals and police cars, burning vehicles and brawling with police.

A Facebook page, Nathan Kotylak go to Jail, Do not Pass Go, called out an alleged rioter by name and posted a photo of a man setting fire to a piece of cloth stuffed into the gas tank of a police car, according to the Globe and Mail. Meanwhile, a person on Facebook who called himself Brock Anton, seemingly not realizing that the Facebook Riot Pics page was meant to identify perpetrators in compromising photos and videos, posted the comment:

"Through the jersey on a burning cop car, flipped some cars, burnt some smart cars, burnt some cop cars, im on the news ... one word ... history :) :) :)"

The screenshot of his status led to the creation of at least one Facebook page filled with posts from angry critics: Don’t allow Brock Anton in Vancouver.

Some social media experts are concerned by the trend. "I was deeply disturbed to see the community of social media enthusiasts embrace a new role: not in observation, not in citizen journalism, but in citizen surveillance," wrote Alexandra Samuel, social media director at Emily Carr University, in a blog post on the Harvard Business Review website.

Samuel said that the Vancouver riots show how social media can be used both to create a sense of community and public safety, and to destroy it.

"What social media is for — or what it can be for, if we use it to its fullest potential — is to create community. And there is nothing that will erode community faster, both online and off, than creating a society of mutual surveillance."

As Ken Gallinger, ethics columnist at the Toronto Star, put it:

A picture may be worth a thousand words. But a thousand words can tell a lie as easily as the truth. People with pictures of that terrible night are free to post them, insofar as they establish the disgusting scene that unfolded. But as far as “tagging” the culprits, that’s a task best left, in the first instance, to the cops.

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