Internet Justice

We’ve all read briefly about the group Anonymous from the troll article. While some of what they do is trolling, the one dimensional name is somewhat unfitting. Anonymous isn’t exactly an identified group; they could be anyone who decides to apply the name to themselves.  Consequently, Anonymous has been proactive as internet vigilantes. Well known cases include the “dog shit girl,” youtube cat torture, and the case of the stolen Sidekick. My personal favorite, however, is when the self-righteous creator of internet spam, who believes his creation is one of the best inventions of mankind, was signed up by netizens for almost every imaginable paper advertisement publication possible. Every day, his mail arrives in multiple sacks that weighs upwards of a ton. He now complains more than your five year old niece.

Now that just seems like good karma, and I don’t feel like theres a particular problem with that incident. I’m actually quite happy with what transpired.

However, in general the ethics of internet justice, or internet vigilanteism as it’s sometimes called, is much more ambiguous. What it normally involves is ridicule rather than a legal process. Vigilanteism is oft-times more efficient than justice, but the consensus seem to be that it isn’t true justice.

I’m the guy that believes justice should involve a gun and a bullet. But until we humans develop that type of intellect, we’ll need to make due with our current system. The question this poses is “should justice on the internet be held to a different standard than the offline world?” If so, how would we go about implementing this justice?

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4 thoughts on “Internet Justice

  1. Easy on the “justice … should involve a gun and a bullet.” A bit heavy-handed, n’est-ce pas?

    That underlines my feeling on the internet police, or as you prefer, internet “vigilanteism.” This isn’t true justice (as you acknowledge) because one group of people self-assumes the role of ethical arbiter. I find this WAY too arbitrary to constitute a justice system — who’s to say “Anonymous” or any other person couldn’t begin instituting contrary cyberspace laws next?

    As Solove argues in “The Future of Reputation” (http://docs.law.gwu.edu/facweb/dsolove/Future-of-Reputation/text.htm), cultural “norms” may be our guide for appropriate online behavior. A tad imprecise, sure, but it might have to suffice until the internet grows out of adolescence.

  2. Kevin brings out a very important point about cultural “norms”. In the case of the “dog poop girl” (which I think is a horrible nickname so I’ll further refer to her as DPG), she received so much public ridicule that she dropped out of her university. Her negligence to clean up after her dog on a public train is unarguably breaking a cultural “norm” but the backlash definitely does not fit the crime. Her reputation is scarred, her image tainted and it’s all due to a handful of people who wafted pictures of her onto the internet.

    These ‘internet policemen’ are crucial to implementing the norms we find near-and-dear to our hearts but the way in which they can police should be in question. The chapter Kevin points to involving this case highlights the idea that if the situation with DPG had occurred in an age without the internet, her story would have been forgotten hours after it happened. Instead, it became national news as posters circled and blog postings zinged her with public ridicule; all over a little mess her dog left on a train. I’m a firm believer in the ‘punishment fitting the crime’ and I’m having a hard time understanding how what DPG did is in any way comparable to what she received.

    While the internet police were firmly instilling cultural norms that are major influencers in how we act online and in real life, it’s important to keep in mind that these are norms, not laws, and to hold someone to such an extreme form of public mockery is unjust to me.

    Even after this stream of conscience, however, I find it hard to come to a solution. Until we develop laws to regulate this kind of “policing,” or rather ‘a guide to appropriate online behavior’ as Kevin stated, we’re gonna have to deal with DPG.

  3. No not really. I mean, everything’s relative. What I may easily comprehend may be incredibly difficult to digest for someone else. For example, the people of Fiji used children from other tribes for their kids to practice warfare on. They also ate them, and tied them to the masts of boats, where they died from seasickness, in the midst of screams of pain and suffering. You and I find this incredibly horrendous, especially for the acts to be committed by and on children. However, to the Fijians, it was simply life. It was the norm.

    Which is to say, norms are a difficult way to “police” the internet. I would argue that this type of online ridicule has in fact become a norm of the medium. So I suppose another question arises from this. Should the internet be subject to cultural norms, or since it is such a unique place of gathering, should it be allowed to develop norms of its own independently? (Which it already seems to have done.)

  4. Ok, but aren’t you taking an ethical short-cut here? People of Fiji did horrible things and considered it the norm, therefore all norms are relative, therefore we cannot evaluate norms and have to accept whatever norm happens to be prevalent.

    If the norm among Loyola professors would be to assign better grades to students whose parents send them money in an envelope, could we just say: “That’s the norm at Loyola, end of the ethical discussion”? I would think that we could challenge that norm since it flies in the face of fairness, professional integrity and honesty.

    The fact that different cultures have different norms and that some societies seem to be breaking norms we believe to be fundamental, should -in my opinion- not discourage us from evaluating norms all together.

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