May 14, 2015

Real World Vigilantes

I used to wonder, while watching some super hero movie or other, how the "ordinary people" could be so dumb.  They'd get upset and start talking about vigilantes like it was a bad thing, and our poor hero was practically chased out of town instead of appreciated for the good things he (or she, but usually he) was doing.

But, as an adult, I'm starting to understand some of the repercussions of random individuals taking the law into their own hands.

Our justice system isn't always fair.  Innocent people are imprisoned, and even killed, and it's hard to know how to stop it.  (The Innocence Project estimates anywhere between 20,000 and 100,000)  So imagine how much worse it would be if, instead of following due process, the decision to "punish" someone was taken by some random, anonymous individual on the internet, made quickly, based on whatever information that individual was party to.  If you've read my post on how the media deliberately misleads us to better sell their story, you see my concern.

But still, it seems irrelevant, right?  We don't have any superheroes running around, in capes and spandex.  But we do have the Internet.  And along with the Internet comes anonymity, self-righteousness, and a handful of people with the skills to put those 2 attributes to work.

Sometimes groups like Anonymous do things we'd consider to be positive.  They pick up where the government failed and punish these so-called evil doers.  Buuut... all too frequently, the government "fails" because there's not enough evidence to prove that someone is guilty.  And if we, or some anonymous entities on the Internet choose to punish everyone we think is guilty despite proof, then it's inevitable that the end result is even more innocent people suffering.

A perfect example of this is the story of a man who took a selfie at the mall (Naked Security), intending to send it to his kids.  A nearby mother assumed he was taking pictures of her children, took a picture of him, and denounced him on social media.  Eventually it was sorted out by police, and she apologized but not before both parties were subject to harassment and death threats by our lovely Internet vigilantes.  Death threats over a misunderstanding.  And then more death threats for the crime of unjustly accusing someone.  Which, when you think about it, is pretty damn ironic, considering the people making the threats.

I was prepared to do a buttload of research to support my thoughts, but I found a fantastic article that makes some points (backed up with research) that I hadn't even thought of.  RH Reality Check has an article titled "How Anonymous Does More Harm Than Good for Sexual Assault Victims."

The article goes on to point out specific cases where Anonymous, in the name of justice, leaked information and made sensitive cases much more high profile than they were originally.  This public attention didn't help to resolve the cases more favorably to the victims than it would have otherwise, but it certainly did put a spotlight on victims that it's unlikely they would have wanted after already being subjected to such a traumatizing experience.

I think this topic is especially poignant after watching Age of Ultron the other day.  Without spoiling too much, a lot of evil (all of it, really) in the movie is a direct result of someone trying to do what they think is right.  And superheroes and supervillains are the perfect caricaturization of Internet vigilantes, because they hide behind a mask, whether that be a stylish black ensemble, or the anonymity of the Internet.

Our government and police force might be flawed and even, at times, inefficient.  But we know who they are.  We can't have immediate convictions, but also protect the rights of innocents.  Because it takes time to uncover all the facts and make the best decisions possible.  And, if it was me, I'd sure as hell want due process and not some snap-second decision made in a random Internet forum.

To sum up: Vigilantism is like having an additional police force.  Only instead of having less accountability than normal citizens, they've got none at all.  And that scares me far more.

What's your take on vigilantes and hacker justice?  Have you seen Age of Ultron?

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  1. I agree with you completely. I'm scared of those who think they have earned the responsibility to take things in their own hands. It's seems a little sociopathic. I'm a firm believer in Karma, and I definitely have much respect for the appointed law enforcers, even though some take advantage of their position.

  2. I'm torn on it. I mean, I don't like internet vigilante justice. Or I guess when it doesn't directly concern you. But say some drunk driver hit Hawkeye or John... I'd rip them out of their car and kill them with my bare hands. And I would feel no remorse and would have no desire to 'wait for justice' to sort it out. I'd happily sit in jail over it. Which would make me a vigilante so... yeah, I'm torn. Wouldn't do anything on the internet over strangers, but when people do it in real life (hurt someone who hurt their kid) I totally get it.

  3. I am with Stephanie...I am torn a little bit as well. While I know this is a TV show...but Chicago Fire had an episode where they let this drug lord high up in the cartel out to help on a case and in return they offered him a better deal than what he got in court. He ended up killing three police officers and sending others on a wild goose chase in the process with no remorse. I feel like sometimes that shit happens in real life....horrible people that should be gone forever getting deals that puts them back on the streets to serve the "greater good" by catching someone "worse." It isn't right.

  4. I totally agree with Nadine and Stephanie. It's a really hard thing, I think. I like watching shows with vigilantes but I wouldn't want one in my city - the law is there for a reason, though it doesn't always do it's job.

  5. If someone hurt my kids (real or furry) there is nothing that could stop me from taking them down. Have you seen the movie theCrow? Its one of my favorites and I swear I'd go all Eric Draven on someone not even dying would stop me. My sister pointed me to a website she thought was funny. Its called Its scorned women going after the women their men cheat with. While I think that's funny its also pretty sad.


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