Canada
Internet shaming the new public flogging

Credits: Derek Ruttan/QMI AGENCY

JENNY YUEN | QMI AGENCY

TORONTO -- With public floggings outlawed, people are always up for a good public shaming.

In November, pictures of a jogger who kicked over miniature Canadian flags at a Remembrance Day memorial at Sunnybrook Hospital immediately surfaced on Reddit.com with commenters shaming the mystery man.

"We were trying to appeal to his good judgment and say what he was doing was so horrendous," Gerry Samson, who snapped the photo, told QMI Agencyat the time.

Samson's niece immediately uploaded the offensive middle-finger image onto the website Reddit under the heading, "Do you recognize this coward? Toronto man seen damaging Remembrance Day tribute."

It garnered more than 250 comments.

Some people posted that they'd seen the mystery man at the Granite Club, an exclusive members-only sports facility in Toronto. Others suggested inquiring at nearby specialty sporting goods shops about the identity of the guy.

"What we're seeing now is public shaming is more pervasive," said Avner Levin, the director of the Privacy and Cyber Crime Institute.

"Trends started quite a few years back where people began posting things about people doing bad things on the web."

Levin, who is also an associate professor and chair of the law and business department at Ryerson University, said the trend to post and ridicule things people do on the Internet will likely continue.

He recalls one of the first clips in 2005 of public shaming was titled, "Korean dog lady," about a woman in Seoul who let her dog defecate on the floor of the subway.

"Someone took photos of her and humiliated her," Levin explained. "I think it's an effective way for them to have some kind of recourse.

"If you brought this stuff up to the police, they're going to laugh them out of the station."

The professor added there will likely be more people complaining about social institutions in the future, such as protesters who posted photos of police officers during the G-20 Summit. The downside of online shaming is it may lead to the extreme, such as bullying or street justice.

"People feel frustrated," Levin said. "In older times, we'd have it out with people ... The downside is anything on the web goes to the extreme" with vigilantism.

But in most cases, the ridiculing is as far as it goes.

A recent incident in which Toronto Mayor Rob Ford fumbled a football was the butt of a joke across social network sites. It was turned into an animated GIF that showed Ford falling backwards on the AstroTurf.

In 2011, building manager Alex Hess, fed up with people peeing in the entrance way of his Parkdale apartment complex, plastered posters on parts of Queen St. W. with the headline, "Small Penis Alert," depicting video screen grabs of the urinators in question.

"It angered me, so I put up the posters and everyone thought it was a great idea," Hess said at the time.

"Most guys are very personal about (their manhood). I'm saying, 'Look at this guy, he has a metaphorical small penis because he has to pee in our building'."

And sometimes, the shaming gets the attention of the proper authorities.

Shortly after the media ran the flag-kicking story, Toronto Police issued a release asking for the public's help in identifying the man, who now faces a mischief charge.

"There's an amplifying factor to the web -- a lot of people pick it up and discuss it and it becomes something you could say is a lot more in the public's interest than a crime that would go unobserved,"

Levin said. "That's a good thing. If (police) could respond to more of these things, a lot more people would be happier."

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