Plurkers Take Care of Their Own

Interesting drama unfolded yesterday on Plurk. I won't attach a link because I'd rather not get anyone in trouble. Nevetheless, what happened does this illustrate the power of social media and community and surface some issues related to privacy and social media.

The nutshell version of what transpired is this:

  • A fellow Plurker (we'll call her "Freaking Out") was, evidently being bothered by another individual (evidently another Plurker) we'll call "Creepy Harasser" for a period of one month.

  • Evidently, Creepy Harasser had obtained the individual's home phone number using basic details found in Freaking Out's Plurk profile, and had used a cell phone to call this person every few days for over a month.

  • A "friend" of Freaking Out (we'll call him "Helpful") posted a well-intentioned Plurk alerting others about the harassment. Helpful asked for practical suggestions on what the Freaking Out could do to stop Creepy Harasser. Helpful also publicly listed the offender's cell phone number for all to see. Evidently, Creepy was not so smart related to caller ID.

  • Fellow Plurkers were angered and apalled, and the Plurk incited a flurry of comments … from encouragement to “call the Po Po" to suggestions on how fellow Plurkers could impose some justice on Creepy Harasser. Things began to escalate.

  • It was not long before this story motivated one fellow Plurker, we'll call him "Justice" to call Creepy Harasser, himself. As he did, Justice narrated his actions in the Plurkstream. He repeatedly prank called the guy... making obscene comments until Creepy stopped answering the phone. After this, Justice began filling up Creepy's voicemail with terribly bad You Tube video music. (I found this all a bit over the top, but I must admit I laughed pretty hard about it).

  • Other Plurkers cheered from the sidelines, and quickly other Plurkers either joined in or promised to join in on pranking Creepy - even those from outside the U.S! The Plurkstream was full of punitive suggestions, such as signing Creepy up for spam text, ring tones, etc.

    As time progressed, things gradually fizzled out ...

    Now, I'm not advocating harassment of any kind... and I did not join in. I don't know if the factual details behind the harassment are accurate. I know the person who posted the information was merely looking for recommendations to help his friend. I don't know the person that was harassed... or the harasser.

    That being said - the sense of camaraderie combined with the sheer outrage and backlash from the fine people of Plurkopolis was impressive! I'd go so far as to assert that this type of backlash might take care of a creep even more quickly than taking action with his cell phone company or calling the police would (especially if the offender was out of state)!

    The message was clear: Don't mess with Plurkistan!

    Even so, while part of me took comfort in the “protective behavior” of the crowd… I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if the same angry mob had its facts wrong, or were mislead in some way. I thought about how easily it would be for many well-intentioned, and well networked people to be led astray. We know from history this happens.

    How easily could one person trigger the harassment of an innocent person or people? Take it to another level and how could the rumor mill impact companies, brands, stock market behavior.... as news travels faster and faster through social media.

    Taking it down a notch...I had to ask myself well I know all the people we “friend” or “follow” online? And with the answer to that I had to ask my often over-sharing self, how much about myself should I really share in this new world where "friend" is a verb - but not necessarily a state of being.

    The reality of that makes me bit more sober about my own participation in social media. In the long run, I’m sure we’re not done hearing stories like this one. Just some food for thought!

    Telemill said...

    I agree with you on this. I'm always worried about "getting all the information straight" before acting from comments. All these individuals could have gotten in big legal trouble if this had been an innocent, AND they could still get in alot of trouble. There ARE laws against harassment and usually the well intentioned are the ones that get hurt by it more than the one that "initiated" the harassment.

    I hope everyone reads your words of caution, and think about it before jumping in and doing virtual vigilante justice.

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    I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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