Man takes his first selfie. Random mom thinks he aimed camera at her kids, posts his photo online, calls him a "creep," it goes viral.
A Melbourne mother, mistakenly believing that a guy was photographing her kids in a shopping centre, snapped a photo of him as he was "taking off" (also known as simply leaving a Target store).
On 6 May, she posted the photo to Facebook with her description of the encounter with the "creep", saying that he'd been reported to management and police and that he'd be charged if he turned out to be a registered sex offender.
After hundreds of shares, the news of his public shaming finally reached the so-called "creep", who turns out to have been publicly maligned over innocent behavior.
By the time the post was shared 20,000 times, he had received death threats and was considering his legal options, he told Daily Mail Australia under condition of anonymity.
The man eventually contacted police to explain he was just taking a selfie - in fact, his first ever - as he stood in front of a Darth Vader cut-out at the Westfield Knox shopping centre at Wantirna South, in Melbourne, Australia.
He said he thought it would be a good "daggy" dad joke to send to his three children, who love the Star Wars movies:
I'm a father of three kids and a normal human being... I've never taken a selfie before.
I was in two minds whether to take the selfie, but I thought it'll be a good daggy dad joke.
In real terms, it was embarrassing enough to be standing in front of Darth Vader, to be honest.
("Daggy" being Australian for the uncool and unfashionable.)
Now, all three children and their dad have been "devastated" by the ordeal, the man said.
His friends, family and colleagues all over Australia have seen the post, he said.
Besides receiving death threats, his good name - or, at least, his image and his reputation - have been dragged through the mud:
We're a very strong, community-minded family and we've never had any issue with any form of impropriety and all of a sudden my name is smeared.
The man said he was in Target looking for a birthday present for his partner when he saw the Star Wars display:
As I was walking out of Target I saw a very large Darth Vader cut out for taking photographs. It said 'May the 4th be with you', and I've got three children and they love all that Comic-Con, Supernova, science fiction stuff.
So he took a quick selfie. Then, he saw a bunch of kids sitting down nearby without any parents present.
He reassured the kids that he'd be done in a jiffy:
I said 'I'll only be a second, I’m taking a selfie to send to my kids.'
The Facebook post has since been taken down, but the Daily Mail Australia posted a capture.
It's pretty clear how the misunderstanding happened: the mother, who wasn't there when the selfies were snapped, got the story second-hand from the kids.
From her perspective, as she said in the Facebook post, her kids were approached by a stranger in Target while sitting and watching "Frozen" on a screen in the children's clothing section.
From her post:
He said 'hey kids' they looked up and he took a photo, then he said I'm sending this to a 16 yr old.
She took a photo of the man as he was leaving the store, removed her children from the area and informed security:
Centre management were straight onto and so are the police, hopefully he is caught.Police said if he is a registered sex offender he will be charged, this happened at Knox, be safe with your kids
The man got a panicked call the next day from his partner while he was in a business meeting.
She told him she'd been contacted by somebody who'd recognized him from the photo, he said, leaving him "flabbergasted" at the idea that his photo was on Facebook, publicly posted, along with the allegation that he'd approached children and taken their photos.
He immediately drove to the local police station to identify himself and clear things up. There, police interviewed him at length and inspected his phone.
Of course, by the time he had proved his innocence and the post had been retracted, the damage had already been done:
The retraction post has only been viewed one-fiftieth of the times the original post was viewed.
At Naked Security, we regularly report on social media posts that instigate vigilantism.
In September, there was the case of a convicted child rapist who sued both Facebook and a Facebook page administrator, claiming that the admin posted his exact address to a paedophile-monitoring page.
In November, another story of a cyber mob taking justice into its own hands was that of Anonymous e-hijacking Twitter accounts and websites of the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the wake of threats the group had made against Ferguson protesters.
Those are just a few instances of mob justice. They're legion.
The targets are often hard, or impossible, to sympathize with: paedophiles, or groups that foment violent racism and hatred.
But the Melbourne man is a clear example of why we should restrain ourselves from prejudging via social media, or of fomenting vigilantism, and should instead trust the law to investigate and mete out justice, as the local police requested in Melbourne regarding this case.
Detective Acting Inspector Allan Price from the Knox Police Service Area told the Daily Mail Australia that the incident should serve as a reminder about the dangers of social media and of spreading inaccurate and alarming information:
We would encourage anyone in a similar situation to contact police and report the matter as opposed to turning to social media.
Members of the public must not believe everything they read on personal social media pages and refer to reliable sources for their information.
Sure, that mother was just protecting her kids. She was right to report the man to security if she was concerned.
But taking her suspicions beyond reporting it to authorities, and turning up the flame on the Facebook mob with her allegations, had serious repercussions for this man and his family.
A friend of the man said his family appreciated that the original post had been taken down, but called on the woman to say sorry.
No matter what happens in the future, this man has been impacted by her actions. I bet the story of his innocence does not reach the numbers that her original post met. Her sharing a public apology would go some way to ease the hurt that a whole ... number of people are feeling as a result of this incident.
There [have] been huge ramifications for a family and a man's reputation as a result of her post.
Let's hope that she has learned a valuable lesson about responsible use of social media, and that she musters up the courage to say sorry.