The Internet’s Vigilante Justice

Laura Hudson worries about it:

Shaming, it seems, has become a core competency of the Internet, and it’s one that can destroy both lives and livelihoods. But the question of who’s responsible for the destruction — the person engaging in the behavior or the person revealing it — depends on whom you ask. At its best, social media has given a voice to the disenfranchised, allowing them to bypass the gatekeepers of power and publicize injustices that might otherwise remain invisible. At its worst, it’s a weapon of mass reputation destruction, capable of amplifying slander, bullying, and casual idiocy on a scale never before possible.

Alyssa shares many of Hudson’s concerns:

In courts, when juries or judges find defendants guilty, they have guidelines for the sentences that can result from those judgements, and the people on whom they’re imposed can often appeal those sentences or find ways to reduce them. An internet shaming obviously doesn’t carry the weight of law–having Penny Arcade mad at you doesn’t mean that you’re going to have an enormously difficult time getting hired for many categories of jobs–but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have consequences, or that it’s not intended to. Getting someone fired or harassed as retaliation is no joke, it’s not necessarily proportional, and it’s certainly not restorative. I’m all for a serious conversation about what the appropriate social and material consequences should be for harassing or threatening people online should be, and how best to carry them out. But as satisfying as shaming someone can feel in the moment, I’m not sure it gets us any closer to conclusions in that conversation that will make the internet a healthier place.