Shame, Shame on you or should it be Shame Shame on me?

First there were (and are) “outings” of famous, infamous and not-so-famous men and women some of which were public figures and some who were not pinned under the public eye.

These “outings” dealt with scandalous doings such as Bill ‘s affair with Monica, sexual deviants in the Catholic priesthood and in our educational system. All the fingers seemed to point at our sexual mores.

Now, the medium that not too many years ago was touted as the means to bring the world together and would be free to all is transmogrifying to not “outings” but “shaming” with many looking to make a buck by the click at the same time; all of this without personal responsibility for pointing an internet finger.

We’re all fascinated by our “user names” and revel in the “anonymity” they provide which could also be called “privacy.” Or, could these monikers for which we work so hard at to either shock or delight our viewers serve as a virtual wall to hide behind?

Most of us have a cell phone and use it to varying degrees from simply a means to call 911 or Triple AAA or to excess as recently portrayed in an All State Insurance Co. TV ad.

Last month, Eva Burgess was eating breakfast at the Rose Cafe in Venice, Calif., when she remembered she needed to make an appointment with her eye doctor. So the New York theater director got on her cell phone and booked a date. Almost immediately, she started receiving “weird and creepy” calls directing her to a blog. There, under the posting “Eva Burgess Is Getting Glasses!” her name, cell phone number and other details mentioned in her call to the doctor’s office were posted, along with the admonition “next time, you might take your business outside.”

The offended blogger had been sitting next to Burgess in the cafe. It used to be the worst you could get for a petty wrong in public was a rude look.

One site documents locations where people have failed to pick up after their dogs. Capturing newspaper-stealing neighbors on video is an emerging genre. Helping drive the exposés are a crop of entrepreneurs who hope to sell advertising and subscriptions.

One site that lets people identify bad drivers is about to offer a $5 monthly service, for people to register several of their own plate numbers and receive notices if they are cited by other drivers. But the traffic and commercial prospects for many of the sites are so limited that clearly there is something else at work. Enforcing decency and more

The embrace of the Web to expose trivial transgressions in part represents a return to shame as a check on social behavior, says Henry Jenkins, director of the comparative media studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The sites documenting minor wrongs are the flip side of an online vigilantism movement that tackles meatier social issues. Community organization Cop Watch Los Angeles encourages users to send in stories and pictures of people being brutalized or harassed by police.

The governor of Texas plans to launch a site this year that will air live video of the border, in hopes that people will watch and report illegal crossings. In a trial run in November, the site received more than 14,000 e-mails.

In China, Web postings have become a powerful social weapon, used to rally thousands of people to hound a man who allegedly had an affair with a married woman.

For people singled out, the sites can represent an unsettling form of street justice. Chris Roth’s driving skills have been roundly criticized online by self-anointed traffic monitors. “This man needs his license revoked,” wrote one poster, who accused Roth of cutting in and out.

Another charged him with driving on a shoulder and having the audacity to flip off an old lady who wouldn’t let him cut in. Roth found the critiques when an anonymous writer added a comment to his MySpace.com profile in late November directing him to PlateWire, one of the handful of sites devoted to bad driving. There, a user had posted Roth’s license-plate information – his vanity plate is IDRVFAST – and complained about his reckless driving.

Subsequent posters found and listed his full name, cell phone number and link to his MySpace page, as well as comments like “big jerk” and “meathead.”

“There is no accountability. You can just go online and say whatever you want whether it’s factual or not,” says the 37-year-old Roth, of Raleigh, N.C., who works in technology sales. He admits he is an impatient driver and speeds, but he has no plans to change his driving style based on posts by anonymous commentators. “Who are they to decide what is safe or not?” he says.

The digital age allows critics to quickly find a fair amount of information about their targets.

One day last November, at about 11:30 a.m., a blog focused on making New York streets more bike-friendly posted the license plate number of an SUV driver accused of zooming from a dead stop to hit a bicycle blocking his way. At 1:16 p.m., someone posted the registration information for the license plate, including the SUV owner’s name and address. (The editor of the blog thinks the poster got the information from someone who had access to a license-plate look-up service, available to lawyers, private investigators and police.)

At 1:31 p.m., another person added the owner’s occupation, his business’s name and his title. Ten minutes later, a user posted a link to an aerial photo of the owner’s house. Within another hour, the posting also included the accused’s picture and e-mail address.

The SUV’s owner, is Ian Goldman, the chief executive of Celerant Technology Corp. in the New York City borough of Staten Island. According to an e-mail exchange posted on the blog, Goldman said he had lent the vehicle in question to a relative with “an urgent medical situation” and that he was not aware of any incident.

The victim has decided to drop the matter since the damage to the bicycle, which he was standing next to at the time, was under $20.

Legal beagles say alleged wrongdoers shamed online have small recourse under libel and privacy laws if the accusations in postings are true, if they are posters’ opinions about behavior witnessed in a public place and if the personal information listed is available to the public.

“It becomes very difficult when it comes to the shaming sites in terms of what you can do in creating a case,” says Daniel Solove, an associate professor of law at George Washington University Law School, who is working on a book about gossiping, shaming and privacy on the Internet.

Some of the sites are attracting little attention. RudePeople.com has about six stories of rudeness and iratedriver.com has none.

Caughtya.org is dedicated mostly to the scofflaws who brutalize the disabled by parking in their parking slots; it lists fewer then 10 U.S. infractions “If you have a mobility impairment, and a permit to park in accessible parking spaces, you have experienced the inability of using those spaces because someone who didn’t have a permit parked there illegally. It happens, everyday, everywhere.

“This site aims to expose parking offenders. We track parking infractions. We display details of offending vehicles worldwide. It isn’t about revenge, though we readily admit to a certain satisfaction at the thought that offenders may be taught a lesson. It is about getting a better picture of the problem (pun intended). It is about being able to track data and show the “powers that be” what is happening in their parking lots and cities. It is about increasing awareness of an ongoing problem.”

Many ask for donations to cover costs, but some owners hope to make money.

Mark Buckman launched PlateWire in May after almost getting run off the road a few months earlier by several drivers, including one who was looking in his back seat and steering with his leg. The site now lists nearly 25,000 license-plate numbers. The plate owners chastised for moves like tailgating with brights on and driving too slowly in the left lane.

To drum up revenue, Buckman recently added advertising and an online store with branded merchandise. Users in about 15 states can pay $2 to have a postcard sent to an offending driver, directing the accused to the site. He plans to launch another site this year that will allow people to rate and complain about local businesses and individuals.

“If I can create jobs and create an empire, that would be awesome, but my main goal is to make a Web site that can actually make real-world changes,” Buckman says.

Buckman said he endured a grueling HOV carpool from Fairfax to Arlington 5 days a week. “After coming close to being involved in 5 separate collisions on one fateful ride home from work, I had an idea. With very little capital to get started, I began the task, to make people more accountable for their actions on the roadways in one forum or another.

“ It has become an all too common fact that the only time people straighten up and drive safe is when there is a police car near by; a prime example of a society driven by fear. Adopting that same mentality, PlateWire intends to grow large enough to become a real deterrent to unsafe driving habits. My goal is to bring awareness to bad drivers so they become aware of the dangers associated with the aggressive driving they have become accustomed to. So join in, vent your rage, and let us all do our part to make the roads safer.

“Some of the crowd that oppose our website (The minority, our percentage of positive response is well over 90%), claim that there is nothing we can do curb road rage or carelessness. We couldn’t disagree more!” Buckman’s blog: http://BadMark.com/

At least eight PlateWire users have chastised themselves online, including one in Nevada last month who apologized for cutting another driver off in a post titled “Telling on Myself.”

MonkeyMeter.com “None: I have not seen one monkey driving today. Low: I made it to work, and only one person cut me off! Average: I got cut off, tailgated, blocked, the usual. High: I might have used my horn once, cursed, basically got angry once or more. Saw a monkey picking his nose. Lot’s of speeding! Extreme Danger: Full moon drag racing, using your finger, people hanging their heads out the window to curse. ROAD RAGE!

“ Here are two other road rage sites to look at:: AboveAverageDriver.com, Irate-Driver.com

Flickr.com, YouTube.com Comments: Photos and videos on the two sites have captions like “bad owner.” One YouTube chronicle, “a nice doggy’s bad owner leaves a landmine on Dean Street in Brooklyn,” has been viewed nearly 1,300 times since it went up in April.

Women can post pictures and videos of men who leer or make comments like “hey baby, wanna make love??!!” HollaBackNYC.com launched in 2005, inspired by one woman who photographed a lewd man on the subway. Now there are at least 14 other local sites in the U.S. and Canada.

“I had my cell phone clutched in my hand the whole time, unfortunately it didn’t have a camera so I couldn’t take a picture of the jerk’s face. I’m 17 years old and even though I’ve been told I look 18 or 19, it’s still no justification to hit on someone who is thirty years younger than you.

“It was just plain creepy and it left me completely shaken. I ended up in tears for the two hours that followed because I was totally unnerved and I lost all sense of safety. This incident was made worse by the fact that the night before I had a group of guys shouting “I want some of that pussy” at me while I was walking down the 42 street train station stairs. I’m use to comments of “hey beautiful” and such and I’ve learned to ignore those, but the vulgarity of what those guys were shouting surprised me and left me a bit nervous. But it certainly compared nothing to how violated I felt last night.” Submitted by C.C.

I am reminded of the ongoing Arby’s TV commercial featuring a nerd walking the gauntlet of a trio of beefy louts who are hooting at him while he stumbles by clutching a paper sack with Arby’s logo on it. He casts a hurried look and sees the outline of the famed “Arby’s hat” hovering like little red halos over their heads. Hummmm…..?

LitterButt.com This site doesn’t post license plate numbers of littering drivers, but it does act. Reported plate holders in participating states (Pennsylvania, Texas and North Carolina) get a notice. The site sends the details to the state, which then mails a letter to the vehicle owner. For other states, the site might send an e-mail to the governor.

From two viewers: “I understand where you are coming from with the litter issue, I agree. But in theory I could just enter as many plate numbers as I wanted and label them as litterers, i mean it’s like convicting someone in public court with no evidence. I just think this anti- smoking thing is going too far. I must say I do NOT like the idea of the site.” ~ Phelux@aol.com

“I believe this was the type of thing the Nazi and Soviet secret police encouraged, ‘turning your neighbor in’. I don’t think it was for anything as egregious as throwing a cigarette butt out a window. FYI, I never throw cigarette butts out…I have a “butt can” which I fill with baking soda. You zealots won’t be happy until you see smoking banned. Why don’t you at least be honest about your intent?” david_sparling@earthlink.net

Flickr.com, Flickr abounds with pictures of people talking loudly on cell phones or displaying bad cell etiquette. Could you be there? Photos have titles and comments like “TalksTooLoud,” “Loud talker” and “Chatty McBlabsalot.”

RudePeople.com “A whichy, bitchy, arrogrant foregner who doesn’t care what happens to others, expecially her “friends a work”, the residents, or family. If rude had a picture in the dictionery, it would have her there! By Observer of Rudeness, Section Stories Posted on Sun Jan 14, 2007 at 02:16:48 PM EST

“…a witchy, bitchy, arrogant foreigner…” would be the correct spelling of the words in that sentence. Sadly, in you attempt to mock foreigners, you managed to mangle your mother tounge and make yourself look like an idiot. “Being foreign has no bearing, whatsoever, on this person’s character. “Please rush off to your Klan rally, and be sure to pack an extra sheet.” This was a post in reply to her comments by a body named “state trooper.”

Isawyournanny.blogspot.com The five-month-old site has about 190 sightings so far, and most relate tales of bad behavior. Two more sites for nannies – Isawyourmommy.blogspot.com and Isawnannysemployer.blogspot.com – have since been launched in reaction.

I looked at the site and found it a strangely appealing niche site which certainly seems to strike a chord in a mother’s heart.

Here are some outtakes: “Plus if the lady seemed gruff that’s about how most people here are. There’s always an edge to people in this part of Philly. Those kids probably did not even take notice that lady was “gruff. “Just wanted to share that with you guys. I actually started laughing when I saw that location. There are two BK’s on Frankford Avenue and both are in declining neighborhoods. The people with careers high tailed it out of these parts. Good lookout though. I like this blog.

“Your nanny was in 7th Avenue Donuts today wearing a skin tight low cut black shirt. She was holding the hand of your little boy who was wearing a corduroy blue jacket and blue jeans.”

There’s sure to be more. I can think of an “American Idol” site promoting both aspiring actresses and actors walking down the street in various cities ala Paris, London and other exotic locales with a semi-literate, sarcastic MC making ill formed snide comments about the tone of the whistles and their length and intensity as well as the amount of sway in the watchee’s booty.

Perhaps there will be a blogger’s game show with prizes awarded according to the difficulty of the questions answered, or not answered as the case may be.

As the tools to build blogs become simpler and the cost for most bloggers is as good as it gets (FREE) the proliferation of blogs and bloggers will grow exponentially, of course. This is not a moot question: will the acceptance of responsibility by each and very blogger expand as well?

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