Social media: Opening windows to crime

Social media: Opening windows to crime

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - A snatch thief grabs at a woman's gold chain from a stationary car on a busy road. She escapes his clutches and falls to the ground as the criminal speeds off. No one comes to her aid.

However, right behind the thief's car, a motorist's dashboard-mounted camera has recorded the whole incident.

He later uploads the video to YouTube and shares the footage on Facebook, prompting an outcry against this new mode of robbery and alerting netizens to it.

Capturing crime

Just two years ago, such unpleasant events would not be a common sight on the timelines of most social media users.

Now, more and more bystanders are whipping out their smartphones and other recording devices to capture crime or vigilante arrests happening right before their eyes.

This phenomenon happens because not everyone is physically able to assist the victim or fight against the criminal, says Malaysian Crime Awareness Campaign (MCAC) co-founder Mark Soh.

"Getting evidence is the next best thing, so a person may choose to record an incident instead of providing assistance," said Soh.

With crime taking its place as a familiar element in the social media landscape, psychologist and criminologist Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat worries that people may become desensitised to violence and unlawfulness.

"So much so that when they actually witness crime, they become passive bystanders and don't help to stop it. It's bad that people require more and more gruesome violence to experience outrage," she said.

Some individuals also have less-than-noble motives, such as a desire for 15 minutes of fame by having a video they uploaded go viral.

Some recordings are even misused to frame others.

"Some of the videos and pictures we receive seem to have elements of sabotage, so we don't post them on our page. This is especially true with claims of missing persons, so we always verify the facts," said Soh.

This may include recordings of bullying incidents, which intend to shame the victim.

Recent cases include two female teenagers beating another girl unconscious in what appears to be a violent quarrel over their victim's looks.

Earlier this year, Facebook users were shocked by a three-minute video of a female secondary student being choked with a tie, hit with a book, and humiliated by jeering classmates.

Dr Geshina said such ill-intentioned recordings could signal symptoms of an anti-social personality disorder.

"Such people enjoy causing or witnessing public disorder, and they take pleasure in sharing their experiences with others," she said.

Although such recordings can be used as evidence, uploaders are often unaware of legal repercussions.

"If children are evidenced in the footage, the individual who uploaded it may be charged for many crimes, including neglect, abuse, and being an accomplice," said Dr Geshina.

While graphic images and videos shared on social media can raise awareness and shock people out of complacency, the usual barometers of responsibility, common sense, respect and decorum must always apply.

This can sometimes fall on deaf ears, as some netizens who managed to secure CCTV footage of grisly events have shared it with the world wide web for all to see.

"Posting graphic CCTV images of the AmBank officer who was shot in the face was pure disrespect to her grieving family and in extremely bad taste," said Malaysians Against Rape, Assault and snatcH (Marah) founder Dave Avran.

With MCAC's practice of pixellating gruesome pictures to respect the deceased, Soh agreed that social media etiquette should be practised as it "should never be about the Likes or Shares."

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