The rise of online vigilantism
The growing phenomenon of online vigilantism, where internet users hunt down and punish people who've attracted their wrath.
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Online vigilante justice has become commonplace in China, but it also occurs right here in the US. It's a phenomenon in which internet users hunt down and punish people who've attracted their wrath, often for unpunished acts that are considered reprehensible.
Tom Downey wrote a story on this topic which will appear in this weekend's "New York Times Magazine." In it, he profiles one of the most widely known instances of online vigilantism.
When a woman in China posted a video in which she stomped at kitten to death with her stiletto heals, the online community was outraged. They worked together to find the woman and punish her.
"What's amazing is, in a nation of over a billion, they were able to track her down," said Downey. "She got fired from her job; she got run out of town. And that was one of the seminal human flesh search pieces in China."
Human flesh search engine in Chinese is code for online vigilante justice. While it's a global phenomenon, Downey says in China, there's more widespread recognition of the concept among that country's internet users.
Some feel this particular form of using one's tech savvy to give people what they deserve is useful, but questions arise about whether online vigilantism is dangerous.
Randy Cohen, author of "The New York Times Magazine's" Ethicist column, sees the danger.
"Vigilante law, the lack of due process, a mob bullying an individual -- I think that hasn't worked out so well," he said. "I think you can play the 'A-Team' music, but you might more appropriately discuss the Ku Klux Klan. The history of mob violence is not a pretty one."
Downey says in countries, like China, where citizens often don't have the means in which to redress wrongs, going online becomes the only option.
View an example of online vigilantism from New York City's Jimmy Justice, a YouTube user who has gained hundreds of thousands of views of his contentious videos. His specialty is catching traffic cops who break traffic laws.
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