Saturday, 30 June 2018

Vigilante Justice on the net - Caltex Driver.

Something good came out of it. 

Facebook user Kelly Yeo did the right thing to raise the matter to Caltex. The pump attendant does not need to bear the balance of $115. Caltex assured the public that they will bear the balance.

It was a good ending for all except the driver of the BMW. 

I don't know whether is it because he drives a BMW or is it a case of the perceived rich-poor divide, but the driver was not spared the public humiliation and harassment. 

What should have ended there and then sadly spilled over to a police report. 

The driver yesterday filed a police report, stating that he was "worried for the safety of his family after netizens identified him online." 

This is what the police said:-

"We have looked into the matter and established that no offence was disclosed. It was a case of miscommunication between the pump attendant and the vehicle owner on the amount of petrol to be pumped at the petrol kiosk in Tampines. We have verified that the vehicle owner was due to trade in his vehicle on the same day, and would not require more than the necessary fuel."

The police advised the parties to settle the matter amicably.

But amicably was not what the netizens were looking for. 

Somehow, they did their own sleuthing around and did it rather well and thorough. They managed to suss out the target, troll his workplace address and position, display his family photo, and even stiff out his personal handphone number. 

No private detective could match the online detective in timing, information and details.And that explains why the BMW driver now fears for his safety and his family's safety. 

He noted with trepidation that "since the Facebook post went viral over the weekend, netizens have plastered (his) personal details online, including his purported name and occupation."

He said: "After reading some of the comments on the Facebook post, I decided to lodge a report as I am afraid that these people will come to my house."

He added that he had received "many nuisance calls, SMSes and WhatsApp messages".

Lesson? Three.

If there is one thing I can "fault" the driver, it may just be his lack of magnanimity (I am just thinking aloud). 

In my view, he should have just paid the $125 and walk away. Live and let live. I know I would (on good days). 

But that's a form of moral imposition on my part. He is not me, and I can't expect that from him. 

He was just about to trade in his car and it was more likely than not that he had told the uncle that he only wanted a refill limited to $10, and not full tank. 

It is thus likely that it was a miscommunication. No one was to be blamed by society's standard of social norm. 

Alas, we may expect a kinder society, but what's more crucial here is an understanding one. 

Personally, I can be a rogue one day, impatient and even crude, depending on my mood, but on another day, I may be exemplary in my thoughts and deeds. No one lives with monastic goodness 24/7, 365, all year round. 

I know myself, and I am far from perfect. Too far. 

This brings me to my three lessons.

1) Justice. 

Sadly, I can't expect much understanding from media justice. When we hide behind technology, performing our panopticon surveillance for self-perceived culprits and crooks, what most are going for is sensation, popularity ("Likes") and controversy. 

Honestly, I don't expect much mercy too. Forget about moderation, think overdrive and overkill. 

The justice meted out by the social media is more blind than the blindness of that lady holding up the scales of justice. 

Think many sledgehammers busting a nut to smithereens, and I hope you get the picture. 

There is also no perimeters to such vigilante justice either. You can't ringfence it, reason with it or control it because it is essentially faceless, restless and tactless. It spreads like virus and leaves no stones unturned. 

Unlike a judge who sits in the court and is accountable to a high enacted standard he or she has to abide by, the media justice is accountable to no one. They are out there and are on the prowl. 

They are "ringfenced" by their anonymity and it is an invisible wall made up of a lot of hot pent-up air. 

And if you happen to be caught in their crosshair for even the slightest transgression, it is not the transgression that is severely punished, it is the transgressor - it is you. 

2) Privacy. 

It is said that privacy is partly a form of self-possession. You are most yourself when no one is watching and listening. 

It is our sacred space for reflection, correction and redemption. Take away our privacy and we are essentially dysfunctional ("not of our own").

We lose our sense of self. We are effectively dispossessed of our true identity. We become what the society (who is watching and listening to us) wants us to be. We are walking fake. 

And in a world of media justice, where the Police's ballad comes glaringly alive (that is "Every breath you take and every move you make, I'll be watching you"), our privacy, our sacred reforming self, is the white elephant in an e-fortress of god's eyes (in the form of spontaneous handphone cameras and trigger-happy internet postings). 


3) Dignity. 

To be fair, public shaming via the media has led to exposure of acts that deserve to be exposed. And the culprit like molesters, bullies, cheats and fraudsters deserve the comeuppance. 

But it can also go the other way and strip many less deserving, or the misunderstood, of their dignity, privacy and worth. The damage can be lifelong.

While the media honours heroes and shame crooks, it can go overboard by punishing those who happen to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong crowd, and in the wrong mood (which can be anyone of us!).

Unfortunately, it can also lead to hypocrites taking all the credit and the hapless taking all the blame. Recall that media justice with no filter and discernment is more blind?

You see, everyone of us relishes being the self-appointed judge of society, and none of us enjoys being the accused. 

But as much as we love to judge and preserve/project our rightness to others, we also stand guilty of being the accused in the many vulnerable areas of our life. 

That is why I sincerely believe that for a society to be kinder, gentler and compassionate, we first need to understand and be understanding. 

We need to understand that every Internet finger pointed at the target on our private screen is more than one finger pointed right back at us. 

Surely, we do not want to live in "an Orwellian world where tastes, relationships and pinpoint GPS locations are public knowledge to whomever is manning the server," but a world of understanding with the protected right to be forgotten. 

Kindness without understanding is superficial and understanding without kindness is hypocritical. 

And privacy means that our past no longer haunts us in the form of a playback locked in a thumb drive or recorded for posterity in the Cloud. 

Our right to be forgotten in this media age is as important for us to be human as our right to social justice and security. 

So, I return to the BMW driver with a family. I hope he will be left to his own to reflect. I hope that what has happened is soon forgotten. 

For there has to be a secret garden we go to to be alone, unharassed, that is, a quiet spot, so that we may learn to be human, to be self-aware of our vulnerabilities, and to make amends for them without being forced to do so. 

That is, a sacred space we can be ourselves. Cheerz.

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