The Vancouver riots and social media surveillance


I’m not going to try and explain the riot that happened after game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Maybe I should try. I’m interested in sports, politics, and social change, so a ‘sports riot’ in Vancouver seems like a perfect intersection of my interests.

What interests me is the aftermath of the riot. Particularly, how citizens of Vancouver are taking to the internet to ‘out’ and shame those who were involved and how Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter are forms of evidence collection for the police. Immediately it reminded me of the Chinese ‘human-flesh search engines’ – Netizens in China using the web to track down and harass people who commit acts that are deemed offensive.

I’m not attempting to make the argument that this form of policing is good or bad. I am more interested in how social media operates as a form of social surveillance – The whole Anthony Weiner case in the States is another example. In his article – Understanding Vancouver’s ‘Hockey Riot’ – Dave Zirin who is a sports/politics writer , also brings this up and writes that what is happening in Vancouver is a “queasy step toward ‘social media as police state’ that we should reject. Today a sports riot, tomorrow a demonstration”.

Maybe because I’m a grad student involved in socio-cultural studies I can’t help but connect these events to stuff I’ve been reading and listening to; in this case, the idea of the Panopiticon.

The Panopticon was originally a proposed prison design by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century. It was later taken up by French philosopher Michel Foucault in his work Discipline and Punish. It is a structure in which the inmates are aware of being under constant supervision, but are unable to know if and when they are being observed. Foucault used this as a metaphor for all hierarchical structures in society and discussed how this form of surveillance ultimately leads to disciplined and docile individuals and a citizenry that will participate in self-surveillance.

I think that the social media aspect is only one of many issues to come out of the riot, but I think it is important to ask: is this type of surveillance a good thing? is social media an appropriate policing tool?

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