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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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  • it is not a good thing,
  • by kenp2002 ( 545495 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:30PM (#28282107) Homepage Journal

    I offer this:

    Look at history, and political science and take a hard look at why republics functioned beter then pure democracy. The Internet runs the same risk.

    Take heed and good luck, crowd sourcing has a hidden downside people are forgetting.

  • Re:No (Score:5, Interesting)

    by panthroman ( 1415081 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:40PM (#28282235) Homepage

    The internet-justice connection is also about making information easily accessible to the public. And sometimes the public know what the police don't.

    Ted Kaczynsky was identified by his brother somewhat due to his reversed (though also correct) use of the phrase 'you can't eat your cake and have it too.' [] I imagine many aspects of a crime could be identified through that kind of esoteric data, if only the right people saw it.

  • by MarkvW ( 1037596 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:41PM (#28282249)

    Many people will SAY anything. I've seen people on /. advocate the murder of people who hold views of copyright different from their own. Extreme positions get amplified on the internet because extreme people can easily interact with other like-minded extreme people. That's all fine and dandy, so long as it's just idiots saying stupid stuff. Freedom of speech, whatever.

    The problem for me is that there is a very small minority of people who can be triggered to act by the incitement of others. These people will reach out and HURT people with little or no factual support. Unless stopped, people like this exert an evil influence all out of proportion to their otherwise insignificant place in society. Nazis did that kind of stuff in the 1930s and it really chilled the behavior of other law-abiding Germans. A real turd-Kultur was created there. That kind of history ought best not be repeated.

    If people alter their behavior because they are afraid of being tormented by Internet-spawned wrongful "meat world" attacks, then they are not free. Balancing protection from such acts with the right to freely interact on the internet is a serious legal and moral challenge.

  • by Xelios ( 822510 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:05PM (#28282609)
    While I'm not too thrilled about people taking the law into their own hands, lets try to keep some perspective. How many innocent people have been jailed or executed by our 'proper' systems of justice? More than a few, I'll bet. Judges and juries are prone to making mistakes just like the rest of us. Most of these internet vigilante cases so far have ended in personal information being made public, threats against the suspects and evidence being sent to local authorities who take it from there (unless the person didn't actually commit a crime in his country). I'm hoping the internet gives some sense of separation from the issue that keeps people from doing anything too rash, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.
  • by bzzfzz ( 1542813 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:06PM (#28282625)
    The outcome ultimately is justice through online voting and consensus systems, like the moderation system here, or the various systems of community sanctions over at Wikipedia. The problem is not that these systems are unfair, since they are arguably no worse than traditional legal systems (whose track record is far from perfect). The problem is that they are open to manipulation by people who have the willingness and the knowhow to game the system.
  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:12PM (#28282719) Homepage

    My fucking god! Every time I turn around, there comes to my attention yet another sick thing I couldn't possibly have imagined on my own. "Kitten Killing Videos"?? Holy crap!! And no, nobody needs to list "things sicker than kitten killing videos" and definitely do not post links. To this day, I have not watched two girls and a cup. It was the Daniel Pearlman video that convinced me that if I am warned that I shouldn't see a video, I should probably heed the warning. It cured my "morbid sense of curiosity" forever. (Movie violence be damned, but for all my "kill the spammers" rants, I doubt I could actually stomach actually being the executioner... handing down the sentence is one thing, but actually killing another person? Probably more than I can handle.)

  • Grace Wang (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xplenumx ( 703804 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:12PM (#28282721)
    it is not a good thing.

    I'm sure Grace Wang [] would agree with you.

    In brief, Grace Wang [] was an international student at Duke and dared to try an initiate a discussion between the pro-Tibet and pro-Chinese sides of a protest. After being attacked on forums such as "Online Vigilantes" decided to bring these attacks to the real world by posting her personal information (her student visa application) and providing maps to her parents' house (which was defaced, causing her parents to go into hiding).

    Defending kittens are one thing, but as with "think of the children", it rarely stops there.

  • No surprise (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:13PM (#28282737)

    Wasn't this predicted years ago by Bruce Sterling in Makeki Neko []? Use of the 'net to commit "death by a thousand paper cuts", or harassment by many, many small acts, each of which individually wouldn't be considered unlawful, but in aggregate become overwhelming? I'm not sure whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, but it almost certainly is going to happen.

  • Re:No (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:13PM (#28282741) Homepage Journal

    Those stories are nothing more than a return to anarchy and lawlessness dressed up as something noble by the article.

    Vigilantism is the backlash against lawlessness; in this case the lack of a justice system capable of convicting and punishing sadistic animal abusers has been corrected by a band of on-line judge/jury/executioners. To say that it's the height of civility is a stretch, but 'lawless' it certainly is not either.

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:34PM (#28283027)

    The difference between this and a convict is that the convict was found guilty in a court of law. Say what you will about the fairness of the system, but at least the convicts got a chance to tell their side of the story and have the evidence judged. You don't know the facts about any of these cases and while some may be pretty clear cut (torturing animals on video) others aren't nearly so much simple.

    Take the woman who committed suicide 'because' her husband was cheating on her. How many men cheat on their wives every year? Do they all deserve to be harassed daily, fired from their jobs, and scorned by their friends? Even if their wife is chronically depressed and has been distant and unloving for years? For all you know, the guy's wife regularly beat him with a stick.

    Take the girl who very, very selfishly whined about the earthquake in China. Does she really deserve the same punishment as a convicted criminal?

    Finally, just because no one has fabricated evidence yet doesn't mean that it won't be done in the future. That's like saying "Well, the government didn't abuse its warrantless wiretaps this time, so we'll let them keep doing it". It's short sighted and negligent. Just because this threat to privacy comes from the mob instead of the government doesn't mean it should be any less concerning.

  • Easily fabricated? Surely you jest. They recognized backgrounds and shoe styles, then traced it to online accounts to find the kitten killer woman. How in the hell is that in any way "easily fabricated"? The Internet justice movement may be a bunch of vigilantes, but it's very fucking well-informed vigilantes. If something doesn't smell right, someone will say so and there will be a huge discussion of it. I'm much less afraid of Internet vigilantes fabricating shit than I am of my government fabricating evidence of, say, WMDs.
  • by Ironica ( 124657 ) <{pixel} {at} {}> on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @03:00PM (#28283365) Journal

    No, they just make it impossible to ever live a normal life ever again.

    How is that any different than going to jail and having a criminal record follow you around?

    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.

    Welcome to the life of any ex-convict. While the mob way was definitely the incorrect way to do this, all the people mentioned in the story got exactly what they deserved. Killing kittens, cheating on your spouse, etc should be cause for you to have to get humiliation and shame from others.

    Leaving aside whether that is appropriate punishment or not...

    I hope most people see the difference between a conviction in a court of law and Internet mob justice. While *these* people may be unequivocally guilty, there are no rules, no checks and balances in place to ensure that the next person is. There's no innocent until proven guilty, burden of proof, right to representation, or rules of evidence. There is what people believe to be true, and the actions they take based on it. If their belief is misguided, or doesn't happen to be in line with law (for example, if an Internet group decided to ruin a woman's life because she had a perfectly legal abortion), then you've got a big problem on your hands.

    The rules are there to protect everyone... especially the innocent who are accused anyway. It happens every day. Circumventing the rules may provide a certain visceral satisfaction, but it doesn't serve the greater good at all.

  • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @03:44PM (#28284003)
    As long as I'm always in the 51%, I don't see the problem.
  • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:03PM (#28284315)

    Finally, just because no one has fabricated evidence yet doesn't mean that it won't be done in the future.

    Just because we haven't been attacked by giant space hamsters doesn't mean it won't happen in the future. Just because the second coming of Jesus hasn't happened doesn't mean that it won't happen in the future. Just because no one has shit out their mouth doesn't mean that it won't be done in the future.

    In addition to ending perceived online threats, we should also prepare our space hamster defenses, make sure we're looking busy for Jesus, and invent a handy face diaper.

    Maybe the status quo needs to be shaken around periodically. We all enjoy a high level of perceived anonymity and immunity from things we say and do online. Maybe it's a good thing that periodically we're reminded about reality.

  • by Omestes ( 471991 ) <> on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:35PM (#28284817) Homepage Journal

    By forcing an innocent person to kill a kitten?

    Seriously, these morons RECORDED themselves killing kittens. Its not like there is a big mystery over who actually did it.

    I have no problem with this, no one got hurt, and making someone lose their job for doing something disgusting is perfectly fine with me. Its not like they were lynched or anything serious.

    Okay, you go to a fast food restaurant, and you see an employee wander out back and beat up a bum. Would it be wrong for me to go talk to his manager and call the cops on him? Even if he got fired?

    Most reasonable people would have no problem with this. But just because its on the internet its now "scary".

  • Re:Cats (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Omestes ( 471991 ) <> on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:42PM (#28284951) Homepage Journal

    Maybe people could use their brains and realize that killing kittens is not the worst thing in the world. All this outrage is ridiculous. Murder and rape in war torn countries, a okay, a kitten gets killed, lets all get together and catch the bastard.

    I shouldn't help that guy over there, because there are millions of other people who need my help in Africa!

    That is fallacious reasoning.

    People who kill kittens for fun are probably going to be dangerous in other ways. It is one of the signs of a burgeoning serial killer, for example. Actually, if I saw someone killing a kitten for fun on the street, I'd beat them within an inch of their lives, then take the kitten home with me, then call the cops on him, and his boss, and his family.

    If you find hurting defenseless living things funny, then I really don't want you in my society, since I'm sure you can go far beyond "just" kittens.

  • Re:No (Score:2, Interesting)

    by S7urm ( 126547 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @05:26PM (#28285543)

    Not sure if you are writing this from a country besides the US, but here, vigilantism is not met with a lack of punishment for the offender. It is illegal to enact certain "justices" outside the realm of law enforcement. However to compare a group of people finding an animal abuser (which is also a precursor to human abuse/murder/serial killers) to people in the South lynching "dem #$%^#$ers" is flaimbait at best.

    For one thing, you deny justice to a group of individuals for too long, they WILL take it into their own hands, two how do you think laws and values and morals came into being? It wasn't just plopped down to us like Prometheus and Fire....three I ask you, "SO WHAT?" 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. You'll notice that in cities like New York it is now a CRIME to ignore a crime in progress (Good Samaratin law) There is a reason for that, people like those in this thread who think vigilantism has no cause in society. I say to you that the LACK thereof is a big factor in our complete slide into a pit of hedonistic, self aggrandizing filth that is our current state of affairs, and that when people don't take a stand for what they feel is right (or against what is wrong) then you merely have a group of good people doing NOTHING to change the course of events (see the US during the beginning stages of either World War) Pacifism is not the answer, nor will it ever be, just read a history book for more reasons why.

  • Re:Cats (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stonewallred ( 1465497 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @05:56PM (#28286099)
    I fucking despise cats with a passion not unlike that of fundies hatred of homosexuals. Saying that, i also believe any scumbag fucker that would torture or needlessly kill a cat should be given over to whatever psycho-sexual torture killer on the local death row to use as an unwilling victim as a reward for said psycho killer's good behavior. That kind of behavior, IMNSHO, is disgusting and perverted. It outrages me far more than crimes against people, as people at least have the theoretical ability to protect themselves. Cats and dogs have been specifically bred to consider humans as "safe".
  • Re:No (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @06:17PM (#28286331) Journal

    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.

    You set up a beautiful straw man argument and knocked it down...
    But harrassment and social ostracism are in no way equivalent to a lynching.
    Not even death threats and bricks through the window rise to that level.
    You have a point in there, but your hyperbole saps it of any meaning.

    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.

    So give us an equal number of counter examples. It can't be that hard.
    Or even better, find some non-anecdotal statistics that supports your otherwise overhyped assertion.

    I've only heard of a handful of cases where crowd-sourced justice misidentified the perpetrator and yet you can find endless threads on the internet (car forums are especially fruitful) where vigilantism peacefully named and shamed the guilty.

  • by Requiem18th ( 742389 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @06:28PM (#28286433)


    All this crap about phear the mob rule! Tiranity of the majority etc is just rhetoric elitist bullshit!

    You think vigilantes are dangerous because they respond to no one? Bullshit, Vigilantes answer to society, and in the case of very large mobs like the internet, the mob *is* society. What makes you think the police is better? Because they answer to no one?

    How do you call a government that doesn't listen to the "mob"? A dictatorship.

    Besides the "mob" has become much more sophisticated than before, you are talking about pitchforks and torches, this "mob" probably has never hold a pitchfork in their entire lives. We are talking about finding out stupid criminals online and you are talking about lynching, way to be disconnected from the real world.

  • by khellendros1984 ( 792761 ) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @07:47PM (#28287231) Journal
    It may not be more correct behavior (from a social standpoint) to be a vigilante than an animal abuser, and perhaps even not more "civilized", but in a case like that, I'll side with the vigilante. There are behaviors that I would regard as inherently evil. Some vigilantes do things that are inherently evil. Some do things that are what I would consider good. The problem with the class of people "vigilante" in general is that they're acting outside of an exterior controlling force, so you have no guarantee that they're working for the betterment of society. But an animal or human abuser that causes harm without benefiting society (as opposed to a medical researchers or equivalent) is scum. There's no chance that they're doing something good, or for the right reasons. I can't bring myself to condemn someone who would fight against that kind of behavior.

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