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Online Vigilantes, Or "Crowdsourced Justice" 339

destinyland writes "The Chinese credit the 'human flesh search engine' for successfully locating 'the kitten killer of Hangzhou' from clues in her online video. But in February, the same force identified a teenage cat-abuser in Oklahoma — within 24 hours of his video's appearance on YouTube. 'Netizens are the new Jack Bauer,' argues one science writer, and with three billion potential detectives, 'attempts to hide will only add thrill to the chase.' But China's vigilantes ultimately turned their attention to China's Internet Propaganda Office, bypassing censorship of a director's personal information using social networks, including Twitter. The author suggests there's a new principle emerging in the online world: 'The Internet does not forget, does not forgive and cannot be stopped. Ever.'"
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Online Vigilantes, Or "Crowdsourced Justice"

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  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:17PM (#28281903) Homepage

    This is less about the vigilantism of the Crowd, and more about the utter stupidity of [some] criminal/deviants.

    Stupid criminals shoot video of their crimes. Incredibly fucking stupid criminals put the video on youtube.

  • The Author (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Niris ( 1443675 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:18PM (#28281923)
    "The author suggests there's a new principle emerging in the online world: 'The Internet does not forget, does not forgive and cannot be stopped. Ever.'""

    So the author came up with that? Seriously? Pretty sure that's been a main line (well, at least a version of it) for the groups for a long while.
  • Ooops. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <.Satanicpuppy. .at.> on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:20PM (#28281955) Journal

    See, this is why you can't trust free speech and open information. One minute it's saving kittens, and then next minute it's BITING YOU IN THE ASS! I can has truth plz? kthnxbye!

    Always nice to see the Chinese circumventing the Great Firewall. There is no way you'll get good information if all you get is government information.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:21PM (#28281981)

    The crowd makes a mistake and some random dude gets beaten down for something his lookalike neighbour did.
    Do a search for: vilgilante mistake

  • by internerdj ( 1319281 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:29PM (#28282089)
    I also have a very bad feeling about this. If it is ok for kitten killers then it will be ok for whatever topic X society doesn't like as long as there is enough of society to make an impact in their personal lives.
  • Re:No (Score:3, Insightful)

    by moderatorrater ( 1095745 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:37PM (#28282195)
    Why can't it be both? The criminals are indeed stupid for shooting a video of their crime, and even more stupid for posting it on the internet for the world to see. But does their stupidity mean that the faceless masses on the internet can harass them until they lose their jobs or scrawl death threats on their doors? Those stories are nothing more than a return to anarchy and lawlessness dressed up as something noble by the article. The only story with redeeming qualities is when they found the name of an official that was bragging about his ability to censor the internet, but you'll notice the end result of that story wasn't anywhere near as dramatic as the others.
  • by QuoteMstr ( 55051 ) <> on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:38PM (#28282215)

    I'd rather not live in a society in which 51% can arbitrarily sentence the other 49% to death.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:40PM (#28282241)

    More like the new mob. It's fine if you fit in, if you agree with whatever "the internet" agrees on. It's utter hell if you don't.

    "The internet" is not much better than the average religious nutjobs picketing abortion clinics. They just picket different targets. Sure, today it's kitten killers and the Co$. But how long 'til the next groupthink target is a group you belong to? Will it take a lot to jump from hunting down criminals to hunting down people that dare to be different, that refuse to fit in, that did nothing really wrong but made someone feel "uneasy" thinking of what he does?

    And I'm not even talking about sexual fetishes that make me (and probably a few other people) cringe.

    It's a small step from vigilantism to harassment. From fighting a crime that the justice system ignores to beating people you just don't simply like.

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:43PM (#28282291)

    The author of the article doesn't get it

    Fortunately, human flesh search engines don't end the lives of their victims, like the witch-hunts or lynching of the past.

    No, they just make it impossible to ever live a normal life ever again. They ruin your career and alienate your friends and family. They force you to live through humiliation and shaming every day, often for weeks or months at a time.

    All based on a single, often easily fabricated, piece of evidence. That isn't justice, it's just a mob being a mob and harrassing other people for the fun of it.

  • by internerdj ( 1319281 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:46PM (#28282325)
    Ooops. Sorry we killed an innocent man. We'll get it right next time. The reason we have (admittedly a very broken) justice system is the crowd is not at all capable of making reasonable and consistent judgments on the guilt and severity of a crime. The crowd doesn't demand punishment for the guilty; the crowd demands a scapegoat in retribution for a wrong whether the guilty party can be reached or not(Sorry Iraq).
  • by internerdj ( 1319281 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:51PM (#28282405)
    The examples in the article didn't even need that much. It could have been as few as a few hundred who tracked these people down and the results were the targets losing their reputations, jobs, etc. It is a scary scary thought indeed. Every reasonable human should always keep in their mind that if they wish to be treated above average as a majority, they must accept being treated equally below average when they are the minority. If you wouldn't want to lose the amount of life/liberty/pursuit of happiness you want to push on someone else, then you shouldn't try.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:13PM (#28282729)

    Someone clever could turn this into a Two Minute Hate, craft videos of crimes not really committed, wars not really fought, and enemies who don't exist. Congratulations, you can now harness the raw power of a hateful, vindictive crowd.

    "The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroyâ" everything. "

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:15PM (#28282765)

    The government isn't going to waste time and money going after these people and thus far it sure seems like these are some fuckers who really deserve whatever the government can do to them. People who participate in hunting these people are just filling a void.
    It sounds like nothing illegal was done by those participating in the hunt, at least nothing obvious. It's not like they are hunting the person down in order to physically assault them, they just all want to express their opinion at the same time to that person and make sure that everyone who knows them is aware of what they have done. Is it really a lynch mob if the noose is nothing more than information?

  • by scubamage ( 727538 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:27PM (#28282905)
    You obviously haven't been to law school, through a corrections course, or seen what happens to people who have ever been convicted of a crime. There's a reason we have higher recidivism rates than nearly any other country on earth. We destroy the lives of our convicts, often off of shreds of evidence that are flamboyantly paraded by charismatic lawyers while denying evidence that could change the verdict because of legal technicalities. Good luck getting a job if you've been convicted.

    These groups only really pursue people who do one of two things - 1) try to make information that is free unfree (the antithesis of the internet), and 2) do things so abhorrant that they rouse the majority to action against them.

  • by geobeck ( 924637 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:27PM (#28282911) Homepage

    Is it really a lynch mob if the noose is nothing more than information?

    Unfortunately, it only takes one nutjob to turn a peaceful demonstration into a 'dangerous mob'.

  • by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:29PM (#28282951)

    I'd rather not live in a society that thinks impaling a kitten through the eye socket with high heels until the kitten dies is considered a good thing. Fortunately, I don't and neither do most people.

  • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:30PM (#28282971) Journal

    There is a reason why people still want vigilante justice today, because when someone who is obvious guilt of something like child rape, gets one year in jail, it pisses even the most level headed of us off.

    No, it doesn't make it right, I'm just saying.

    Suffice it to say, justice in this world is not perfect. And it will always be imperfect.

  • by Onymous Coward ( 97719 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:31PM (#28282989) Homepage

    Whatever. Take that feel-good stuff somewhere else. Two wrongs often do make a write, and eye for an eye does make me feel better. I don't care what Gandhi says.

    Ah, it makes you feel better. Hm... Basing morality on urges is kind of a bad sign, isn't it?

    I might suggest we all try to find ethical wisdom from different sources, rather than some anon online forum commenters. I know, kooky.

  • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:33PM (#28283013) Homepage Journal

    Right, rules of evidence, jury trials, right to appeal, right to have legal representation, none of these make any difference.

    The question isn't "which system never screws up". There's no such system. The question is which system screws up the least. I think that a system that relies on some random idiot saying, "Hey, that must be the guy!" isn't even close to the top of that list.

  • Re:No (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DJRumpy ( 1345787 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:42PM (#28283137)
    I disagree. This is no different than laws designed to deter individuals from performing unacceptable acts. Peer pressure can be a socially acceptable conditioning tool. The end result is the same. If these online vigilantes help capture said criminals then it harms no one. If the go beyond that and in turn break the laws, then they should be dealt with accordingly. That doesn't mean that all vigilante acts are inherently wrong.
  • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:58PM (#28283315)
    Tell that to the black and Jewish victims of lynching in the south. Yes, in many cases vigilantism can be a form of law enforcement. The problem though is that when a group of citizens answers to no one the potential for abuse and stepping beyond law enforcement is definitely there. And while many of those lynched had committed capital offenses, most hadn't.

    Yes, in the two cases cited it seems to have worked out in the interest of justice, but they could just as easily have found somebody that wasn't guilty.
  • by QuoteMstr ( 55051 ) <> on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @03:00PM (#28283373)

    And our goals are not mutually exclusive. It's possible to recognize that killing kittens is wrong, but that that widespread vigilantism greater wrong.

  • by Minwee ( 522556 ) <> on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @03:04PM (#28283443) Homepage

    Neither do I. That's why I carefully studied all of the evidence available and have identified "the humeister" as the culprit. No, don't ask to see the evidence I used, it's all secret. But you can trust me, as I am held to the highest standards of professional conduct required for "some anonymous person on the Internet". Look, I have a video camera so you know I'm telling the truth. Be sure to round up all of your friends and storm "the humeister"s home tonight at sunset. Remember to bring plenty of torches and pitchforks.

    Would you really rather live in a world where everybody listens to people like me?

  • Nonsense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by darthwader ( 130012 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @03:12PM (#28283543) Homepage

    The "cannot be stopped" part of the summary is complete nonsense. All you need to do to stop the internet is show it something shiny. Public opinion and passion is notoriously fickle.

    If there are a thousand crimes committed, the police will make a real effort to investigate all of them, allocating their resources reasonably according to the severity of the crime and the likelyhood of a successful investigation. They will work on an investigation for days, weeks, months or years as required.

    The internet "angry mob", on the other hand, will only investigate the single most exciting, dramatic, attention-getting crime. They will devote 100% of their effort to finding a scapegoat for that crime, until they get bored or something more exciting comes along.

    A smart police force can and will use the power of the masses (think "Amber alert"), but it is still in control of the investigation.

  • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @03:27PM (#28283787) Journal

    This is just an extension of Internet flaming into RL. People who feel passionately about something, and think they have a decent chance of remaining anonymous, have a strong incentive to screw up someone's life.
    Consider a few months back when someone posted the RL address of a spam king and people promptly flooded his house with tons of mail-order catalogs and magazines. (But most slashdotters seemed to approve of that...)

    Justice involves a non-biased judge and written laws. Mobs aren't about justice, even if what they do sometimes seems attractive.

  • Re:NSFW (Score:3, Insightful)

    by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @03:46PM (#28284055)

    There's nothing NSFW about the home page at You see a bunch of giant text asking you to consent to entering an adult site, with 2 buttons you can click on. What exactly is NSFW about that? If you saw that text, still clicked the "Enter" button, and then got offended when you saw porn, you don't really have a lot to bitch about. If the mere presence of a page warning that you're about to enter an adult site is itself considered NSFW where you work, then I'm going to go out on a limb and say that they also don't want you reading Slashdot, but apparently you're fine ignoring that.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @03:50PM (#28284123) Homepage

    It's not even which system screws up the least - it's which system has built in procedures for error correction (which mostly) work, and built in procedures for appeals (which mostly work). The system that relies on some random idiot saying, "Hey, that must be the guy!" lacks both of these key features.
    Nobody with any sense won't admit our current justice problems, but you'd have to be seriously biased or ignorant to fail the realize the vast difference between the two systems or to ask questions like "what's the difference between the crowd making a mistale [sic] and the police making a mistake?"

  • by sckeener ( 137243 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:41PM (#28284921)
    mod parent up.

    Sex offenders have it too rough in my opinion. Take this article about a bridge in FL. All the sex offenders live there because of all the various zoning restrictions forced them to live there. The article even discusses one woman about to move under the bridge:

    and before anyway says we should just kill sex offenders or mutilate their body parts, remember two things

    1) there are plenty of innocent people convicted of crimes, example being all the criminals being exonerated by DNA evidence years after they were sentenced. Then consider some people had zero physical evidence used against them and have no hope of such a father was convicted on the word of a 3 year old and nothing else.

    2) We need to give criminals reasons to keep their victims alive and unharmed. We don't want the concept of "may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb". If we make their lives too unbearable they are just going to go to extremes after all, what more can be done to them if their lives are already horrible?

    personally what I think we need is another America or Australia...some place to exile the criminals. Maybe a Moon is a Harsh Mistress needs to come to pass. Gives the criminal a 2nd chance and satisfies the victims by getting rid of the criminal.

  • Re:No (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @05:45PM (#28285887)

    As a bystander, it seems to me that there is confusion here about what constitutes vigilantism.

    Generally, it is OK, and even public spirited, for an ordinary citizen who observes a crime to investigate it (within what is lawful of course) and report it to the appropriate authorities. There are times when it is appropriate to detain offenders by force, although one needs to be careful here. But certainly if I as an Internet user found myself able to recognise someone mistreating an animal in a uTube video, I would certainly report it to the relevant authorities

    What is not usually regarded as OK as then proceeding to apply a punishment for the crime, and this is what is usually referred to as vigilantism, for instance the lynchings in the South as were referred to.

  • by quanticle ( 843097 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @06:24PM (#28286389) Homepage

    The grandparent poster was not saying that internet vigilantism isn't always unjustified. In the three cases cited in the article, it clearly was. The problem is, once these vigilante groups are mobilized, they are not very easily demobilized. Also, they don't give the accused a chance to answer and defend themselves. In such an environment its very easy for the mob to go after the wrong person, either through mistaken identity or intentional frame-up.

    To put it another way, the only assurance we have of the accuracy of this mob's sleuthing is the claims of the mob themselves. There are no even notionally unbiased authorities looking at the evidence from both parties and trying to decide if someone is guilty.

    You'll notice that in cities like New York it is now a CRIME to ignore a crime in progress (Good Samaratin law)

    You're obligated to call police, not take action yourself. In fact, if you imprisoned someone who you thought was stealing from you (even if you had evidence) the cops would haul you off to jail before they went after the would-be offender.

    I think if a crime is commited, and I can respond to it in a way that will prevent further loss of life, realty, property, et al. before anyone else can, then I will.

    That's a very dangerous attitude to take. After all, you are not omniscient. All you have is the evidence before you, which may or may not be telling the whole story. Unless you let the accused have a chance to stand and answer the charges levied against them, all you're holding is a kangaroo court.

    In short, I consider you no more civilized than the woman who put her high heel through that cat's eye.

  • Re:No (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Capsaicin ( 412918 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @09:42PM (#28288165)

    Stupid criminals shoot video of their crimes. Incredibly fucking stupid criminals put the video on youtube.

    Isn't there an issue here that many of these "crimes" are committed explicitly for the purpose of posting a video of it on youtube?

The moon may be smaller than Earth, but it's further away.