Kin Lane

Are You A Digilante?

I was reading Ring Videos Create a Community Demand for Shareable Crime by my friend Mike Caulfield (@holden) on his blog, and found myself thinking more about what I’d call “digilantism”, and how people are embracing surveillance capitalism at the lowest level. Fueling a market for new products, generating behavioral surplus online for platforms, and generally policing society in the real world using the latest waves of Internet connected products that we believe are better connecting us, but in reality are re-enforcing old divides like race and class in our physical world.

If you haven’t followed Caulfield’s work when it comes to the fake news landscape, you should be. He’s keeping an eye on this interesting yet scare frontier that is spread across our physical and digital worlds. I’d say that being a digilante is easy to confuse with actual online vigilantism, where we’ve seen people take to Reddit or Twitter to solve a crime, but I would say that it is more lower level than that–I’d leave those situations as straight up vigilantism. Digilantism is what you will find going on in gentrifying neighborhoods, and straight up bored white neighborhoods, where you have a very white, scared, and digitally inclined user base.

Digilantism normalizes the purchase of straight up surveillance products like security cameras, while also doing the work for platforms to generate video, images, and data when it comes to generating revenue by also policing our neighborhoods and culture. Someone in your neighborhood that is brown and doing something you don’t approve of? Record it, and post it to neighborhood sites like Caulfield points out. That fear of someone stealing your Amazon packages, stoked by the media, can lead to other digilante opportunities that will get your blood pumping. Homeless going through your trash? Brown people out canvasing your neighborhood for an electioin? Person visiting the wrong address? Publish their photo online, let the world know they are up to no good, and get your 15 seconds of fame.

I think digilantism will follow the same historic path as vigilantism, and be more about white people policing culture, and not about actual safety of the community. In this way, it will go hand in hand with tech culture, gentrification, and ensuring everyone is behaving just like upstanding white people. Technology will continue to create new low level crimes, like stealing Amazon packages of your porch, which the media will stoke fears around, and ultimately drive the sales and the normalization of new surveillance technology. Repeat. Repeat. Until things continue to level up, and we further automate the reporting, publishing, arrest, and ultimately incarceration of people who are just doing norma human things in neighborhoods, but may not look like what we perceive as normal people doing things in our neighborhoods.

Technology platforms love this activity. We buy their products, publish images, video, and other content to their platforms. While generating fear, buzz, clicks, and traffic to their domains. I’d say that Caulfield is on the right track with his research, following the morphing and shifting that is essential in surveillance capitalism. Fake news will continue, but that has been done, the surveillance capitalists who thrive on stoking our fears and generating behavioral surplus that can be harvested, processed, and used to create new products. Then a/b testing these new products in our communities, letting all of us do the work to discover the next opportunity for revenue in the cracks of our lives and communities. Are you a digilante? Are you letting technology ooze into your life, and stroke your greatest fears? If so, then you are probably living a pretty isolated existence within your community, which is a rich environment for exploitation in this new digital world we’ve established.