The Dark Side
By Carlo Longino, Wed Apr 27 18:45:00 GMT 2005

The rise of "happy slapping" shows how not every application of mobile technology can be a valuable one. So how does society -- and the industry -- react?

"Happy slapping" -- essentially violently attacking someone while it's recorded with a videophone -- is a growing problem in the UK, with British Transport police investigating 200 incidents in the last six months in London's public transport system alone, with who knows how many attacks going unreported. This isn't harmless childplay, the ferociousness and utter stupidity of these attacks is appalling. And the hooligans have embraced user-created content: they share the videos via Bluetooth, MMS and the Web, often describing their efforts as "Happy Slap TV".

Blogger Alfie Dennen has cobbled some videos he's found together to make the point that these kids are violent criminals (via The Mobile Technology Weblog). It's grim and disgusting footage, showing clips of kids attacking not just their friends, but complete strangers minding their own business (this video depicts scenes of real violence, so skip over it unless you're prepared to be offended).

It appears on the whole that technology -- for once -- isn't being blamed, but some schools have banned cameraphones in hopes of stopping such attacks. While one would be hard-pressed to argue mobile technology causes these attacks, there's no denying it has helped spread the fad. That's perhaps the most worrying bit -- Bluetooth and MMS make it easy for these kids to share their videos with others, quickly turning things into a competition.

Banning the technologies won't help, nor will banning cameraphones. Perhaps the only technological recourse is the hope that some of the assailants can be tracked down since they've been stupid enough to record themselves and pass the videos around. Clearly these idiots -- one of whom the Guardian cites as describing happy slapping by saying on a message board "If you feel bored wen ur about an u got a video phone den bitch slap sum norman, innit." -- need to be treated like criminals, not innocent kids having a bit of fun (the clips on the above video showing people being assaulted with kung-fu kicks and traffic cones should hammer that point home) and dealt with accordingly.

Perhaps the fundamental question here for the industry is just to what degree do mobile technologies facilitate or encourage this kind of abhorrent behavior? And when will the backlash against these isolated fads be turned on operators and handset vendors?