Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse

Two recent news stories continue my theme that social media doesn’t so much change people’s behaviour, as expose pre-existing behaviours for all to see, often with unexpected consequences.

Exhibit 1: ‘Dumbest criminal’ records crimes

A Leeds man has been dubbed the city’s “dumbest criminal” by a councillor for posting videos of anti-social behaviour on the YouTube website.

Andrew Kellett, 23, from Stanks Drive, Swarcliffe, published 80 videos and was given an interim anti-social behaviour order (Asbo) by Leeds magistrates.

Kellett has been previously convicted of various offences but the Asbo stops him from boasting of his activities.

BBC News, 21 May 2008

This one’s fairly straightforward: people have been speeding, racing, dodging taxi fares and stealing petrol since the advent of the automobile. But even as some wring their hands over the spread of CCTV and enforcement cameras, others now bravely disintermediate the authorities altogether. Why wait for your crimes to be exposed when you can post them on the internet yourself?

Our legal system’s response? Stop, you’re making it too easy! Shooting fish in a barrel is one thing, but fish who voluntarily jump into the barrel and bob up to the surface with targets tattooed on their bellies – where’s the fun in that? So he gets an ASBO to stop him putting any more of his crimes on Youtube.

Exhibit 2: Students ‘had hints’ before exam

An exam board is investigating suggestions that some teachers gave students hints about what questions would be in an A-level biology exam.

Discussions in an online student forum ahead of OCR’s A2 biology practical identified key areas for revision.

OCR said it would watch the results to see if anyone had gained an advantage.

BBC News, 28 May 2008

Now, I reckon teachers with an inside track on the practical exam have always discretely “advised” pupils what to revise. Not to do so when you’ve shepherded a bunch of teenagers through the course material for the best part of two years would be almost inhuman, even without the pressure to perform in league tables. Exam boards must have long realised this conflict of interest.

It takes a bunch of students chatting in an online forum to force them to admit the situation and “monitor” results. The Facebook generation may be adept at negotiating the social intricacies of poking, but it seems some of them have totally failed to grasp the point of a nod and wink. And it only takes a few to spoil it for everyone.

People being people, much as they’ve always been: loving, creating, cheating and scheming in the same proportions as they always did. The new variable is visibility, and that changes everything.

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