Sarah Sands: YouTube justice is a kangaroo court online

Share
Related Topics

What should you do if someone is foul mannered on public transport? It is spirit-crushing for everyone who witnesses it, yet intervention feels thankless or dangerous. You can report someone swearing or smoking or ranting to an official, but they are as fearful as everyone else. The signs in stations, or hospitals for that matter, warning that staff must not be threatened or abused by passengers or patients, suggest an institutionalised dread of the public. You could call the police, but that means lock-down and nobody getting to work. Furthermore, nobody expects it to lead to a conviction. The result is that we are wretchedly complicit in an uncivil society.

So the filming of the racist mother on a train, uploaded on to YouTube, seemed a brilliant social breakthrough. The Big Brother society assumes the state spies on its citizens. But what if the public take control of it instead? We can police and judge each other. Shame is a powerful social weapon.

Where there are villains there are heroes. The sequel to the YouTube racist woman was the have-a-go husband who hauled a swearing yob from a train. The young man was locked in one of those altercations with a guard that means nobody is going anywhere. It took a member of the silenced majority, a middle-aged man who worked in finance, to say that he wasn't going to take it any more.

Suddenly, we can bypass the expensive and wearisome bureaucracy of the courts. CCTV cameras can identify the criminal or the antisocial, the public turn detective and judge. Newspapers can print photographs of members of the public caught red-handed. Rioters cannot slink back into obscurity. Camera justice also gives us a fascinating social snapshot. Criminals are not only gang members: they can be otherwise respectable old ladies. One granny in a wheelchair was apparently an accomplice in the theft of an elf from a garden centre. If we can shame a violent young looter, imagine the satisfying effect on an old-aged pensioner. YouTube justice looks like the perfect answer to a hard-pressed and clogged-up court system.

So why does this felicitous solution, the YouTube stocks, also make me deeply uneasy? Anyone who has followed a magistrates' court knows that despicable acts have a context. As a local reporter, I watched the trembling caretaker caught shoplifting a present for his wife, or children from what David Cameron calls "troubled families" in fights because violence was the only form of communication in their homes. A crime is a crime, but better judged by a stern but fair magistrate than by internet mobs.

A woman who stole the flowers from a baby's grave was turned in by her daughter and claimed to be suffering depression after a sequence of family deaths. The youth thrown from the train suffered grazes and attributed his ugly temper to being given the wrong tickets and generally having a bad day. On the one hand, we all long for authority figures to sort out uncivil youths. But should we hand over law and order to have-a-go heroes? It is not easy to guarantee proportionate response or accuracy of interpretation. Public opinion is on the Saudi side.

We can catch the crime on camera. The most interesting and complex part is the cause. I am all for seeing and shaming, but would prefer experts to determine the consequences.

Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the 'London Evening Standard'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic'  

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices