Wednesday 23 December 2009

Woo! Auntie has finally gone totally doo-lally! In the aftermath of last week’s morbidly voyeuristic Web 2.0 mash-up of road traffic accidents, then the thing where she asked for the general public’s offensive views on whether or not it’s OK to kill all the gays, today I stumbled across another Web 2.0 fuck-up from earlier this year: an interactive map of teenage killings in 2008–9! Whilst a single death is a tragedy, 123, the most recent of which was three days ago, is apparently a statistic worthy of fun multicoloured visualisation.

Let’s start with the list of victims. Sombre and measured enough for you? Let’s ignore the fact that every violent death has a corresponding news story on the BBC site because it would be churlish to dwell on old grievances about media reporting bias. But, hang on, what’s that undermining the sense of remembrance and decorum? ‘Search name or location’? Brilliant! Has anyone called Jim been killed in the last two years?! Yes! ‘Jimmy bled to death from wounds to his neck from a shard of glass in a bakery in east London on May 10th last year. He had just turned 16 and was on his way to buy his first lottery ticket.’ I would never have known about his brutal and bizarre murder had I not made that whimsical search. I’d never even considered stabbing someone to death with a shard of glass, but now, if I ever find myself trapped in mortal combat outside a smashed-up chippy, I’ll know you can. Thank you, BBC.

Anyway, enough lists, I want graphs and charts and locations! Turn to the stats page, where the end of Jimmy’s sixteen-year-long life has been rendered tastefully as a purple dot on a map! Was your daughter ten years old when she was murdered? Well, now you can pinpoint her precisely. Look, she’s purple! She’s a victim! In fact, you can pinpoint all the white female ten-year-olds beaten to death on a Monday in the last two years. Why the fuck would you ever want to do that?! Well, it doesn’t matter why: with the Internet you can!

Is the stats page too impersonal and imprecise for you? Well, check out the map. The victims smile weakly or posture bravely back at you from beyond the grave, with their faces encased in plaintive white e-bubbles scattered across this sceptred isle. The attention to detail is astounding. ‘Pins point to individual streets where incidents took place and not necessarily the exact spot on that street, although every effort has been made to do so. Where a killing happened in a different location to where the body was found, the latter has been marked.’ Great! The whole world can see your little sister’s face on a pin stuck in the road at the exact spot where her battered corpse was found.

Is this actually useful public information, or simply death-stab–broken-Britain porn? Clicking on a map of disembodied headshots doesn’t allow for disinterested statistical analysis, but does allow one to say ‘oooh, that looks like someone I didn’t like at school! Oh no, what a shame, it’s someone else, what a statistically-inevitable disappointment!’

OK, so now I’m fuming. Surely the FAQ can allay my fears. There must be a reason for this needless sickfuckery. Well, no. And more questions (mostly beginning with ‘why’) are thrown up by something nestling between ‘Doesn’t the government publish these data?’ and ‘Why are ten-, eleven- and twelve-year-olds included?’, namely ‘I think you’ve missed one.’ Two points of note: 1. That is not a frequently-asked question. 2. Who the Hell is going to write in to say ‘Hey, you forgot about the kid I knew/loved/killed!’

Oh, but here’s something I was wondering: ‘Why aren’t details given of perpetrators?’ Well, apparently it’s not to avoid name-and-shame vigilante retribution, but because they haven’t got all the fuckers’ names yet.

So what’s next? Perhaps the BBC’s Google Earth ‘child murderers layer’ to allow mobs to coordinate reasoned, rational, GPS-precision justice. And while they’re at it, why don't they produce a map of child sex attacks, accurately pinpointing the location where the perpetrator climaxed, so that we, the license-fee–paying public, can all go on some kind of prurient paedo-pilgrimage? I even promise to make a Dave-Gorman–style documentary about it, called Andrew Steele’s Kiddiewhack Adventure, which they can broadcast and later apologise for.

Or perhaps we should try to nudge ourselves towards a different possible parallel universe in which press reporting is less self-satirisingly, tabloidily tasteless, one where the BBC checks for both public interest and a modicum of decency in what they produce, where the might of Web 2.0 could be used for good rather than e-vil. Surely you don’t need to be Britain’s best empath to realise that this might be slightly upsetting to a parent or sibling who stumbles across it, and you don’t need to be the Editor-in-Chief of the New York Times to work out that the news reportage value added is zero.

That said, have you zoomed in and found out where the nearest teen murder to your house is? Lock your doors this Christmas kids, Britain’s purple rash of youth crime is on its way to murder you!

Additional reporting, and encouragement not to include the climax joke, by Tom Fuller.

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