The New York Times Magazine has a disturbing article that questions the mob mentality of online activists who use extreme measures to go after teen bullies and rapists.
The article by Emily Bazelon focuses on a group of activists called OpAntiBully. These avengers use encrypted chat rooms and email accounts to publicly shame and intimidate bullies by linking their online profiles to their alleged transgressions.
“People need to learn from their mistakes,” one avenger, a 25-year-old named Ash, told Bazelon. “If it takes shocking or scaring them to do that, so be it.”
Of course, there are big problems with vigilante justice. For one thing, it’s hypocritical to bully teen bullies and rapists. The other big problem with these online avengers is that they could “out” innocent teenagers. Unlike the police, vigilantes don’t necessarily need to gather sufficient evidence before pointing fingers.
One boy, Adam Barnes, says he feared for his safety after he was falsely implicated in the case of the Canadian teen who was allegedly raped, Rehtaeh Parsons.
“It is really ruining my life because I had to deactivate my Facebook because of this. Going out in public and stuff, I always have to worry about who recognises me … I always have to look out, behind my back all the time,” the boy told CBC News.
Another boy linked to the Parsons case had his Facebook account hacked by anonymous vigilantes after he sent a message online to the deceased girl’s mother. The boy’s sister came to his defence in a Facebook post, according to Bazelon.
“Your saying your sticking up for a girl who was bullied but yet you nasty people are nothing but cowards to hide behind anonymous and hack teenagers Facebook profiles,” the boy’s sister wrote on Facebook. “Your just as bad as the ones who bullied her.”
Bazelon’s story in The Times Magazine is not the first to suggest that online vigilantes may be doing more harm than good. This summer, The New Yorker’s Ariel Levy questioned the tactics used by the hacking group Anonymous to try to expose boys who raped a drunken 16-year-old in Steubenville, Ohio.
Those hackers may have sought justice for the girl, but they also immortalised her most humiliating experience by bringing attention to horrific online photos of the assault.
“What the bloggers did was make sure that five hundred million people saw those pictures of her,” Jefferson County, Ohio prosecutor Jane Hanlin told Levy. “I wouldn’t want that picture to be seen by one person.”
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