One of the themes I found so intriguing in the Ghost in the Shell IP – the movies, the mangas, the TV series – was the idea of the re-emergence of a public censure (to say nothing of domestic terrorism) as heralded by the social zeitgeist of the internet. It was messy in that universe – ideas have a habit of morphing beyond anyone’s control – and it’s messy here.
I’m reminded of it thanks to the recent destruction of Ocean Marketing Public Relations Manager Paul Christoforo’s career. He, in a particularly unprofessional fit of pique, got into a heated exchange with a customer of a company his was contracted to represent, and got burned for it.
But let’s set the stage: The company, N-Control, which sells game controllers, got several times its expected holiday demand and could not fulfill orders in time. Its in-house marketing and public relations threw up their hands and it put Ocean Marketing to the task. Christoforo got put handling customer complaints, where one particularly irate customer and he escalated their argument to the point of name-dropping and threats. Said customer forwarded the exchange to the tips inbox of Kotaku, a gaming webzine, and directly to Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade, a gaming webcomic, and the whole thing blew up.
Within twenty four hours, Christoforo lost his job, his marketing company went belly up, his police record and personal life was exposed to the world, and the company he was representing was put in jeopardy, struggling with collateral damage when its flagship product got Amazon bombed.
In effect, by broadcasting the e-mail exchange, the customer – who is still anonymous beyond the moniker “Dave” – unleashed an online riot against the PR rep. The broadcasters themselves – Luke Plunkett of Kotaku and Mike Krahulik, the kindling to the Reddit/IGN wildfire – could fire their salvos with impunity, calling ignorance and denying culpability to the work of thousands of anonymous internet denizens who trawled the net for Christoforo’s Twitter account, scoured his Facebook pictures, hijacked his old Twitter account, looked up his Youtube videos, created parody videos of him, searched his work history, posted his police records, called his home and brought his family into the ordeal.
Suffice it to say, the internet has grown up. It’s now the preferred tool of public censure, and with the utter lack of privacy thanks to the humungous paper trail sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn offer, we live in the biggest small town in the world. Of course, stuff like this has happened before – 4Chan’s /b/ community loves reliving escapades of ‘Anonymous,’ its distributed wars against whomever – but it’s surprising the speed at which it manifests and does its damage, and that presents a huge problem.
Public censure is a nice way of saying “lynch mob,” and while Christoforo may not have been right for the job he was put in, lynch mobs don’t understand concepts like ‘proportionate response.’ Further, neither Kotaku nor Penny Arcade are willing to take responsibility for their efforts in fanning the flames. Owen Good of Kotaku gave a politician’s non-apology today, but Krahulik remains unrepentant: He practically crowed his accomplishments at destroying the man, citing outright malice, and in a just world he should be held legally responsible for that sort of grotesque harassment.
At this juncture, however, he likely won’t, which means that this monster has no boundaries. We have a system that nobody can corral, and that is a scary notion.