"Digital Punishment" in Online American Media

Monday, 11 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 23 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Sarah LAGESON, Rutgers University-Newark, USA
Americans love crime. The criminal justice system is revered in popular culture and news media. Millions of people scour the internet to assess our own moral compass, take cues from other’s digressions, and bear witness to justice and punishment. Historically, we have learned about crime through mainstream news media and fictional depictions. Yet, the internet has dramatically changed this landscape, and for the first time, mug shots and jailhouse rosters are available at the click of a button. Importantly, the U.S. context is significantly different than the European model of the “right to be forgotten.” By comparing EU and US perspectives on privacy, I describe the growth of what I call “digital punishment” in the U.S. using a mixed methods approach: through interviewing those who run criminal history and mug shot websites, by analyzing the content they produce, and by interviewing those who are working to clear their criminal record through legal means – but are faced with the reality of an endless digital trail. There are consequences to these practices, especially in how these websites help to spread incorrect and dismissed records. While criminal history data changes rapidly at the jurisdictional level, there is not a system in place to ensure corresponding updates are made online. These crime websites thus constitute a new form of punishment: They culminate in a curated and searchable online history, which is often unknown to the website subject until they face consequences of these records. These records communicate powerful signals of guilt by attaching a criminal label to millions of arrestees, simultaneously introducing a host of social and psychological consequences.