The police department in Prince George County Maryland today announced on its blog that it will live-tweet an upcoming prostitution sting, complete with images and personal information of the suspects.
They tease their readership with the following:
We won’t tell you when or where, other than it’s somewhere in the county sometime next week. The PGPD’s Vice Unit will conduct a prostitution sting and we’ll tweet it out as it happens. From the ads to the arrests, we’ll show you how the PGPD is battling the oldest profession. Suspect photos and information will be tweeted. We’re using this progressive, and what we believe unprecedented, social media tactic to warn any potential participants that this type of criminal behavior is not welcome in Prince George’s County.
Read more on The Wire.
This police department MUST reconsider before engaging in such a chilling abuse of social media. Sex workers are human beings entitled to human rights, including the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
The police department’s expressed intention to expose images and reveal personal identifying information online of the victims is barbaric punishment that will far outlast any sentence that a judge might order if convicted.
As we see with web sites devoted to mug shots and revenge porn, the subjects’ online presence will forever be inextricably linked to a moment that hardly defines them. Because of the novelty of this live-tweet, no doubt the images will receive tremendous online traffic, will go viral, and will stay online for perpetuity.
If anti-prostitution laws were created with the policy intent on reducing prostitution, this threatened broadcast basically eliminates the prospect of any of these people ever finding any other type of meaningful work. After all, images associated with this scandal will dominate the first dozen pages (at least) when their names are typed into a search engine. Try getting a job under those conditions. Does anybody hire without googling the applicant’s name? Victims also will face the same types of cyber-bullying, online stalking, and harassment we see any time a sex-related image is published alongside personal information identifying the depicted person. This will doom the reputations, relationships, and more.
In addition to the harms to the suspects, if actualized, this media circus harms our American values and could scar us internationally. Countries around the world were outraged when in 2008 the Chinese government paraded a group of sex workers in front of cameras. The international scandal was rebuked as barbaric punishment, reinforcing views of Chinese human rights abuses.
The Prince George Police Department by threatening to live-tweet the arrests and to doxx the victims is inline with the Chinese government, except that because of the internet, the police department’s reach is far greater.
Isn’t it interesting that it’s a prostitution sting they’re live-tweeting?! Is prostitution really the most vile crime in this county? Why not live-tweet a drug house sting? Or the arrest of rapists? It’s impossible not to consider the gender motivations behind this particular type of sting and slut-shaming live-tweeting methodology selected.
The police department better be really eff-ing careful about who they’re taking pictures of. If any underage girls or victims of sex trafficking get included in this tweet-sting the department will be exposing itself to serious criminal conduct. Identities of victims of sex crimes must be kept confidential as a matter of law. Minors and victims of sex trafficking also can’t be charged with prostitution according MD law 11-303b. So they’d be exposing incriminating personal information about individuals who are innocent under state law. It is a crime to distribute or produce child pornography. If any images are of persons under 18 engaging in sexual conduct, the officers will run afoul of child pornography laws. Both state and federal ones. Including those related to the distribution of the material. Not to mention sexting laws that exist in MD. Certainly there is no public purpose behind distributing this kind of personal information about innocent people.
The live-tweeting of a prostitution sting is a serious and egregious abuse. Don’t do it Maryland.