“These are only the activity reports … all persons listed below are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.”

So reads the header of the Scarborough Police Department’s “Weekly Crime Report,” posted to Facebook. However, like many departments around the nation, Scarborough has supplemented the activity report with pictures of the arrested on their Facebook page, sprinkling a list of names with tear-streaked faces of people who (we are told) are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. This practice, which is abused by malicious companies and individuals, does not encourage presumption of innocence, or empathy of any kind.

The troubling new elements of Facebook mugshots phenomenon are twofold. For one, while a physical copy of the newspaper would be read by a limited number of people, easy access to information posted to the Internet has led to websites cashing in on voyeurism. In a practice highlighted in The New York Times, websites like “BustedMugshots.com” host and categorize mugshots collected from law enforcement, preying on the accused by demanding large sums of money to take them down. The accused become dogged by a photo available anywhere to anyone, whether or not they were convicted.

Beyond this obvious injustice, a broader question remains: For what purpose do we publicize mugshots on Facebook? Certainly not for public safety; these are not convicts. Reading a few comments makes the function clear: People recognize the photos and swap stories, or manufacture a back story to fit the crime. Mugshots posted to Facebook create a virtual whipping post, where we gather to hurl our insults and heap extrajudicial public humiliation on the accused. I hope the Scarborough Police Department will reconsider this policy.

Nate Lynch


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