COM0015-Blog post #4-Out of the Box

Vigilante justice – yes, for me that’s the most unexpected application of social media. Who knew that networks of people on Facebook and Twitter could help solve crimes? Social media has become an online form of “neighbourhood watch”. When something shocking goes on in the neighbourhood, audiences stay tuned into their social media sites to track it. There were many examples of internet vigilantism in 2013; the most memorable for me was the hunt for the Boston Marathon bombers (http://globalnews.ca/news/1016396/social-media-2013-year-in-review-vigilante-justice/).
Within the last year, this vigilante justice mindset happened in my small hometown as well, not too far from Ottawa. Someone posted on Facebook that a young teenage girl had been abducted. From that post came a slew of people sharing it to warn others to keep their children safe inside and to keep an eye out for the missing girl. It was amazing and wonderful to see all of these people coming together to try to help find her and keep others safe.
Mixed in there, too, though, was something completely different, which was scary to watch unfold. One person posted something similar to “I know it’s so-and-so that took her”. Then another chimed in with: “Yeah, well he’d better watch out because I know what truck he drives.” And another: “Well, I know where he lives so he’d better not come home anytime soon because I’ll be waiting for him.”
From a single post, a community of people rallied together to help, but in very different ways. For some, the sense of mob justice started taking over. I never did find out how that situation ended; it just seemed to fizzle out without any resolution on Facebook, but I remember thinking that I don’t know so-and-so, but wow, am I ever glad that I’m not him right now. Maybe he’s not a nice person, maybe he’s hurt a lot of people in the past, I don’t know, but what if he was innocent in this situation? If he happened to go out for a leisurely drive or to the store to pick up milk, he would have had a gang of people after him and (judging from some of the comments) it definitely wouldn’t have ended well.
In the article “Digital vigilantism: think before putting pictures of ‘wrongdoing’ online” (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/29/digital-vigilantism-think-before-pictures-of-wrongdoing-online), Bronwen Clune makes a good point – when our friends publicly shame others on Facebook, we need to be very careful to analyze both sides of the story before judging and potentially becoming part of a witch hunt. The article goes on to state that “Internet vigilantism does have a place and a very important public function: to keep those in power accountable.”
So, I guess social media really is a mix of the good and the bad, isn’t it?

Photo credit: StockMonkeys.com (www.stockmonkeys.com)

Photo credit: StockMonkeys.com (www.stockmonkeys.com)