November 25, 2013

The Case of the Selfie-Taking Yolanda Thief (Or Possibly an Innocent Victim of Public Shaming)

Is it right to condemn a man for a wrongdoing that's yet to be proven to have been committed by him? Or call him a scumbag. Or a motherf***r. Or a worthless jerk. Or an ugly sonofagun. Or a stupid thief. In a blog post for wheninmanila.com, Vince Golangco (founder of the site) threw these terms around like candies in a children's party. The unfortunate recipient of such a tirade is a still unidentified man, referred to in the article as "this guy in pink shirt".

If you haven't read the article yet, here's a summary of what it's all about. A volunteer helping in the relief efforts for the victims of typhoon Yolanda lost her phone while working at a relief site. Two days later, somebody started using her gadget to take selfies. Unbeknown to the person, the phone is synced to the original owner's Dropbox account. So photos being taken by whoever took the phone is being sent to the owner's Dropbox. So he has to be the thief, right? Vince Golangco seems so sure that he is.

But here's the problem with the post. There's not enough proof that the "guy in pink shirt" has stolen the phone. Yes, he was taking selfies with the phone. Yes, he was seen (500% sure as per the owner of the phone) at the relief site. But does these prove that he has taken the phone? In a way yes but not in a convincing way. It's about right to consider him as a SUSPECT but to name him as the culprit is over the top.

The blog post by Golangco and his call of "PLEASE SHARE to help find this thief and to spread the word about this guy stealing from those helping others, or to also hear his side of the story." is unethical. It's just wrong. It's public shaming of the highest order. You would think that a person with over 10 years of international experience in marketing, advertising and creative writing has learned something within that 10 years about responsible and ethical distribution of information. The guy in pink hasn't been proven to be the thief but here is Golangco referring to him as a sad, sad thief and calling on everyone within a hearing distance to join him in shaming the man.

If in the end, the man turns out to be a thief, this doesn't excuse the public shaming. What if he's innocent? Can you undo the embarrassment of what he and his family had to go through? No. A man shouldn't be publicly shamed for something that's yet to be proven to have been done by him. Golangco and his friend should've taken a better method in looking for the culprit. In the article, it was mentioned that they've been to the police. So why don't they let the police take care of the matter? Yes, our police force can't be trusted to solve crimes at all times without the help of the public but it would've been a better course than shaming a man yet to be established as the REAL thief. If it's proven beyond doubt that the man is indeed a snatcher of things not belonging to him, then shame him all you want. At this point however, it's rather premature.
photo: flickr/simonk
It's also probably better if Golangco wrote a blog post with a different tone. Instead of immediately condemning the man, he could've made a blog post in the form of a plea. One that contains the circumstances of the loss of the phone and other valuables, a photo of the man, plus a call as to his identification. This could have achieved the same thing - public awareness and identification of the man - without having to blatantly call the man a scumbag. Defenders of the shaming are saying "But the man was seen at the relief site." Well, there's what we call coincidence. It's not always the case but it's possible.

The reputation of a man is at stake here. Even if it's going to be proven in the coming days that he is actually a thief, public shaming before the establishment of the commission of a crime is just unacceptable.

Basically, what Golangco's post has done is call on a mob to beat up on a man who is not yet known to be either guilty or innocent. Irresponsible blogging begets an irresponsible mob.

There are two possible scenarios here. The man is either a thief or he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Neither of these has been proven to be true. So until then, the shaming has got to stop.





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