In recent weeks, residents of San Francisco’s Mission District have noticed a strange phenomenon. A series of metallic door hangers with a cryptic message have been appearing on their front doors. In a hotel, these types of hangers might be used to say “do not disturb” or “privacy please.” But San Francisco’s mysterious hangers are about our lack of privacy.
The hangers, in which people can see their own reflections, read “Anything you say can and will be used against you.” That passage is part of the Miranda warning given by police to suspects in custody before they are questioned. But the artist behind the project says that his message has little to do with police or the state. It’s about us.
“The project is inspired by how technology has enabled or empowered what appears to be the darker side of humanity,” says Brian Singer, a San Francisco artist who goes by the moniker someguy. “The intent is to get people to think about what it means to live in a society where the words you say or what you tweet or type can actually be used against you in a way that can be very detrimental to your well-being.”
Singer was inspired by a recent New York Times feature on Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, a book about how people’s lives have been ruined by online mobs over offensive social media posts. He sees this as an emerging problem society is going to have to confront and draws connections between disparate incidents: Justine Sacco’s infamous AIDS tweet; “Donglegate,” which resulted in both the man who made a sexist joke at a tech conference being fired as well as the woman who tweeted the joke losing her job after receiving rape and death threats; even Donald Sterling, the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers who was recorded in his home making racist comments, resulting in his being forced to sell his team after receiving a lifetime ban from the NBA.
Singer acknowledges that in all of those incidents there is an argument to be made that technology is also being used to hold people accountable for racist or sexist remarks. What we as a society need to figure out now is whether these sorts of reactions and public shaming are going to be the new normal–or if we develop some other kind of relationship to social media and the public sphere.
“I think that’s where the tension is. I don’t think there’s a clear answer for what the way forward is,” he says. “The reason the hangers have a mirror-like finish is to show that this is something we’re doing to ourselves. We’re essentially responsible for this prison we’re creating.”
Singer felt that the Miranda warning was the right message because he believes that we are treating each other as though we are all constantly suspects in crimes.
“My goal with this public art installation is to get people to think about what we’re doing to each other,” he says.