Friday, January 9, 2009

NFL Spectators Texting Stadium Lines to Rat Out Other Fans

An interesting story is coming out of the American National Football league concerning a text messaging policy being implemented in stadiums all over the country. Unruly fans, typically of the violent and/or drunk variety, have allegedly become such a problem that other fans have now been given the power to text message stadium security and have them removed. This usage of technology has been dubbed "text-narcing" by some journalists, and a dialogue has once again been opened about the proliferation of surveillance culture and the ethical dilemmas behind it.

Obviously, there is more to this story than a statistics-obsessed sports writer is going to dig for. Much can be said about the gradual pacification of the contact-sport industry (e.g fighting being taken out of hockey, crowd behavior modification stories like this one), but not a lot has been said about the underlying effect this kind of action can have on society. Encouraging citizens to snitch on each other is never a good thing because nefarious and possibly vindictive motives will eventually arise. I don't have a doubt that perhaps some drunken fratboy might ruin a family outing to a sporting event, but that still doesn't mean security officials should begin pitting us against each other to weed it out. Allowing these "informants" to remain anonymous also brings up problems concerning accountability.

Take this utility out of the stadium environment and we have, in essence, the 911 system; a widely abused and misused protocol allowing citizens to transmit their wrath to law enforcement officers. While phoning in a domestic dispute might save an abused spouse, there are countless cases of mistaken identity, false/illegal arrests, and blatant set ups all staged through the 911 system. Transplanting these problems to the stadium level will in the end discourage game attendance which accounts for a subsequent loss in revenue. There have already been incidents where manhandling rent-a-cops toss the wrong patron or cause civil rights violations because of their own judgment, taking into consideration the amount of phony/joke/prank texts as well as the informants sending false information will ultimately victimize more people than some rowdy drunk would have.

Likely, the kinks in this system won't be worked out. Security will become overwhelmed attempting to moderate the intake of information and taking action against possibly valid claims will mean slower response times and perhaps more violent confrontations. Clearly, borrowing from snitch culture has its pitfalls. Eliminating the camaraderie fans might share with each other during a game and replacing it with suspicion and a complex of power easily abused won't lead anywhere but empty seats.

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