Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Justice is served?

Having born witness (though never participating) to hacktivism on more than one occasion, it's both one of the most amazing and frightening things you'll ever see in your life. On the one hand, it's truly bizarre to see such a large, widespread group all dedicated to the accomplishment of one single task, but it's a little sobering when you remember that once things come down to it, that one task is ruining someone's very existence.

Take the case of Mary Bale, for example. A woman spots a cat while walking down the street and pets it...then promptly drops it in a garbage can and walks off. Of course, this is unquestionably an act of animal cruelty and Bale should receive punishment for her actions, but the extent to which the internet came down upon her is a tad extreme.

From one perspective, 4chan identified Bale very shortly after the video was posted, managing to do in just a few hours what would likely have taken local law enforcement much longer, or perhaps not at all. And yet, by taking matters into their own hands, they've forced much more intense punishment on Bale than would have been inflicted by the police. In addition to any punishment handed down by the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Bale's been publicly shamed by the internet, with her face permanently marked as that of the "cat bin lady". Reviled and mocked ruthlessly by users all over the globe, and even sent death threats which led to her receiving police protection, Bale's name has been permanently marred all because a few people watched a video of her making one bad decision.

Which ultimately leads to the biggest problem with "internet justice": there's no way of regulating it. With enough support, anyone with a grudge can organize an attack on whoever they want and administer a punishment as harsh as they want. Even if the victim doesn't deserve it, or hasn't done anything wrong other than offering a different opinion, they still run the risk of being treated like a hardened criminal by those who organize an attack. And if someone were to actually follow through with those death threats and a person dies just because someone on the internet disagreed with them, can one really say that justice has been served?

I don't think so.


  1. I'm glad that you mentioned shame. Shame seems to be one of the main items in a hacktivists tool-belt. It's the reason they tried to attack Bale's private life, sending information to her work and friends. Shame has enough weight in our society that through it hacktivists can have a true effect on someone's life. Exploiting shame gives them their power, but it is a power that has been established in our society already. Luckily, the shaming of someone seems to keep the internet sated, a feeling that justice has been served, so that they can move on without doing anything truly drastic.

    Furthermore, on the web I don't think justice can properly be served, because everyone is running on their own notions of justice. If each person tries to dish out their own amount of perceived justice, it is inevitable that the punishment be unjust, unfair and extreme. It's not the group decisively punishing a person once, but a mob individuals, each one striking their own blow.

  2. I like the Light reference, by the way.

  3. The concept of the punishment fitting the crime,as well as the equal application of justice, are absent from the ideologies of Flesh Search Engines and Hacktivism. It seems more likely that an individual runs the risk of being "over" punished by the attacking mob seeking justice.

    I see very few "wrongs" being "righted" by their actions, I just see the definition of victim being expanded to include even those who committed crimes that angered the mob. Which is unfortunate.

    How does the saying go, "None of us is as dumb as all of us."