Last week, something magical happened. A Google Glass wearer in Shanghai who had been taking creepshots of women on the subway, was shamed by American twitter users (and Gawker) until he apologized and deleted the offending photos. The verdict's still out on whether or not digital public shaming does any good—much of the evidence seems to suggest otherwise—but this particular case is one for the textbooks. For starters, media coverage was small so the online mob never grew too large or unruly, the offender was not fired from his job nor did he receive death threats (that we could find), and the desired result—the apology and removal of photos—happened quickly, within 24 hours.
Jon Hendren, the Twitter user and Something Awful writer and personality, first found the Shanghai Google Glass creepshotter by scrolling through the #throughglass hashtag. Hendren, who has instigated public shaming campaigns for years, is admittedly very anti-Google Glass, because as he explains, “it’s an invention that solves a problem nobody has, and it symbolizes perfectly in my mind the disparity between richer, entitled tech types and normal folks ... and not only that, it directly invades the privacy of bystanders.” The creepshots struck Hendren because, “it’s exactly what people feared Google Glass would be used for.” Or, as the Gawker headline for the story ran, it’s your “Google Glass Nightmare.”
Google Glass is well aware of the public’s concerns for privacy, and the possibility for Glass users to abuse the gadget and the company even writes in its own user guidelines for users to not be “creepy or rude (aka a ‘Glasshole’).” This Shanghai user was clearly being creepy, and the violation of user guidelines gives a credence to this public shaming campaign even though technically creepshots aren’t illegal. Taking creepshots with Google Glass (or a regular camera) isn’t a new trend by any means either, but this man in Shanghai was the first “chronic guy” Hendren’s come across while monitoring #throughglass, someone who “did it repeatedly and definitely intentionally.” Before the online backlash, this user had nine creepshots on his Twitter stream, some of which were just women’s legs or their hair and shoulders.
I asked Hendren if it would have been more appropriate to report this creepshotter to Twitter and Google Glass, but Hendren didn’t think that would stop him from taking similar photos in the future. Retweeting the creepshots was part of Hendren’s lesson plan to teach this Chinese man that photographing someone without their consent is wrong. “There has to be some way for a large number of people to stress that this isn’t okay,” said Hendren, before admitting, “I know it's kind of crummy to wake up and find out the entire internet hates your guts but there's really no other recourse.”
I'm so sorry, I will not be taking pictures through google glass in public places for strangers, please trust me and forgive me, thanks.
Hendren was pleased with the apology and hopes the whole incident “makes it onto a powerpoint slide at the Googleplex.” As for the generally tame tone of the digital mob, Hendren theorizes it had to do with the language and geographic barrier. Does this mean public shaming someone in a different country or culture might be safer when it comes to trying to teach someone a lesson? Possibly.
Now, if only we could do something about those angry San Franciscans who keep attacking non-creepshotting Google Glass wearers in person.