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Internet Vigilantism

Internet Vigilantism


What is Internet Vigilantism?


Internet vigilantism refers to when people outside of the criminal justice system use the internet to bring justice to a person or people who committed a crime or offended the vigilant in some way.  Many of the people who actively pursue justice using the internet act anonymously or through an alias in order to protect themselves and their reputation in some cases. 


The Good and the Bad


At one end, internet vigilantism can indirectly help authorities target people who are harassing other people on the internet.  Vigilantes can target internet bullies and even report illegal activity they saw after watching videos posted on the internet. 

Internet vigilantism also has the ability to deter terrorism, identity theft, and child predators as well. 


However, an internet vigilante can quickly become unprofessional, make inappropriate statements, and even get themselves in trouble as far as libel and slander laws.  There is a fine line between ethical vigilantism and vigilantism that can seriously harm a person’s reputation.  As a result, many people choose to remain anonymous. 


Specific Examples of Internet Vigilantism


Internet vigilantism is a phenomenon and has, in a way, increased community surveillance around the entire world because of the internet’s influence.  Some specific cases are described below:


Korean Dog Poop Incident

In 2005, a woman was targeted in South Korea after she failed to clean up her dog’s stool on the floor of a subway car.  A commuter on the train took her picture, and her personal information was released onto the internet within days.  The incident received a large amount of media attention in South Korea, and the incident stood as one of the first acts of internet vigilantism. 


Cat Abuse on YouTube

In 2009, a boy posted a video on YouTube that showed him beating and torturing his cat.  The video clip received a huge amount of views in a short amount of time, and YouTube eventually took the video down.  The online vigilantism sparked a police investigation, and the Comanche County Sheriff’s Department arrested the boy and the person who videotaped the incident. 


Chocolate Factory Refused to Let 5-Year –Old Use the Bathroom

In 2008, the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Huntington Beach refused to let a 5-year-old who was ill use the bathroom.  The incident and the girl’s embarrassment quickly spread across the internet, and the contact information for the owner was eventually leaked.  The CEO eventually apologized to the mother of the daughter. 


Police Abused Cyclist

In 2008, a video was posted of Patrick Pogan, a police officer, slamming into a cyclist named Christopher Long.  The police officer had originally charged Long with assault and disorderly conduct because he said Long intentionally ran into him.  The charges were eventually dropped and Pogan was found guilty of lying about the incident. 


Vigilantism on the internet is still evolving, and legislation will likely address the matter in the future.  There are already specific groups devoted solely to vigilantism on the internet, and some groups even pay members for their efforts.