This week, city council members from Huntington Beach, Calif. considered requiring their local police to post mug shots of all DUI offenders on Facebook. For a society that has moved on from physical punishment in public, our Scarlet Letter complex is still frighteningly unwavering.
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Drunk driving is something of a community epidemic in Huntington Beach, where more than 1,600 of the 200,000 people there were arrested in 2010 according to the AP. “In my view, posting this information is a reasonable step to take to enhance the safety of Huntington Beach residents and visitors,” city council member Devin Dwyer, who submitted the idea, wrote in a memo distributed to city officials. The solution: Post mug shots of each person arrested for a DUI on the police department’s Facebook page.
Now, public humiliation as a form of punishment is nothing new. We’ve evolved our techniques of creating social outcasts via a good public shaming over thousands of years – from three days in the stocks to police blotter in our local newspapers – but this was all before our humiliation acquired such a far reach.
A DUI could mean a line in the newspaper and a few weeks of gossip, but with more police departments logging all arrests on web sites and (if Dwyer got his way) social networks, your social offenses would not only be broadcast worldwide, they’d be illustrated with a mug shot – meaning Criminal You would get a face of his own.
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At first, it’s a little easy to saddle up a high horse and join the battle cry against a group of repeat offenders who thoughtlessly endanger lives each time they get behind a wheel, but public humiliation doesn’t end with one person, it trickles down onto their family, their children, their spouse. Somehow, we have simultaneously managed to condemn cyber bullying and hand over new, embarrassing material to instigators.
Luckily, Dwyer’s Facebook shaming proposal was voted down during a city council meeting Tuesday night, and I was pleased to learn one of the council members, Connie Boardman, shared my thoughts. “Children of alcoholics live in a private hell as it is, and I don’t want this city to make it any worse for them,” she said. “You know how savvy kids are with Facebook. A picture that appears on the police department’s Facebook page is not going to stay there. It’s going to be on the home pages and (Facebook) ‘walls’ of hundreds of kids at the high school or middle school where the children of that alcoholic go. These kids may have real successful in hiding a secret that they’re deeply ashamed of, and we’ve just outed them. And I just don’t want to contribute to that.” Hear, hear.
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