The 21st-Century Peep Show

Big Brother's got you under surveillance. But so does little sister.

If not exactly an enticing prospect, it sheds light on the possible underlying reason for sites such as Hack and Holla Back: a need to cope with the reality of a city full of anonymous faces. "Street harassment happens in smaller communities, but you're not dealing with strangers," Emily May says. "In New York, you're dealing almost exclusively with strangers. Whistling at a girl in your gym class is different than whistling at a girl you're never going to see again."

There are other sites that have cropped up to deal with the perils of city life. After a bad landlord experience drove him to recount his woe online, one blogger invited others to post their own apartment nightmares, complete with details that clearly identify the targeted individuals. Unlike Hack and Holla Back,'s modus operandi is printing first and last names, not photos, of people caught in the act of being bad landlords. But recent visitors to the site might have noticed a "bad real estate broker" story in the mix—complete with a head shot of the allegedly offending professional.

So now it's do the crime, do the face time. Or as one blogger wrote about the dog poop saga: "Maybe now technology will provide a way to reinstate that societal feedback. I doubt this episode would have occurred in a small town where everyone knows everyone and such actions would have resulted in immediate consequences."

In a small town, "visual stocks"—what Amanda Lenhart, a researcher for the Pew Internet & American Life Project., calls sites that put wayward citizens on display, as did those wooden structures of long ago—just might not be necessary.

The problem, as it always was, is just who gets put in the stocks and why.

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