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COMP 607: Reflections on week 11

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By nmas in the group COMP 607: Fall 2015 cohort November 28, 2015 - 4:54pm Comments (2)

I have not seen any groups or sign-up sheets for this week’s discussion as described in Moodle, and so I will run under the assumption that we are not having the small group debates.

A fairly recent phenomenon that social media has given rise to is internet vigilantism. I remember a few years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, certain members of Reddit took it upon themselves to identify the bombers based on footage and images of the incident. It did not help that the media picked up on this and gave their attempts credibility by publishing reports on the individuals that the Reddit users had identified as being the culprits. The fact is, they were way off the mark. The Reddit users even misidentified suicide victim Sunil Tripathi as one of the bombers (Fitzpatrick, 2013).

Internet vigilantism also takes the shape of online shaming. These are essentially online witch hunts where individuals are pilloried for acts that may be considered reprehensible, but completely bypass due process and the judicial system. The victims rarely earn anyone’s sympathy for their suffering at the hands of the shaming due to the fact that they are seen as being guilty of the crime they are accused of. For example, Walter Palmer, the American dentist who hunted Cecil the lion as part of a game hunt, was flooded with negative reviews on his dental practice online.  

Consider the case of Lindsey Stone, who had a photograph of herself making a crude gesture with her finger at the Arlington National Cemetery go viral. She states that the photograph was meant to be an inside joke among friends. However, within hours of the post on Facebook, she was flooded with insults and threats and was fired from her job. While her photograph may have been in extremely poor taste, it is likely that it was taken out of context and her ignorance and innocence of the gravitas of the location may yet be proven (Ronson, 2015).

One very interesting situation was the case of Jon Ronson’s identity theft over Twitter (Ronson, 2015). Ronson is a Welsh author and journalist, best known for his book The Men Who Stare at Goats. A group of academics (one of whom was a lecturer at the University of Cologne) created a Twitter account which was controlled by a bot called jon_ronson. This account apparently posted tweets based on the contents and linkages made on the real Jon Ronson’s Wikipedia page. The bot tweeted ludicrous comments such as these gems:

Watching #Seinfeld. I would love a big plate of celeriac, grouper and sour cream kebab with lemongrass #foodie

#woohoo damn, I’m in the mood for a tidy plate of onion grill with crusty bread. #foodie

The creators of the bot would not disable the account but did agree to meet with Ronson. The video of the meeting was published on Youtube, and shows three individuals who appear to show no contrition for the blatant identity theft. However, Ronson gained a tremendous amount of sympathy for his plight and the creators of the bot were shamed online for their actions. The Twitter account was finally disabled.

While the story above has a happy ending due to the effect of online shaming, the dangers of online vigilantism are nevertheless obvious. It can potentially destroy the lives of innocent individuals who are caught in a dragnet of vigilante passion. It ignores the fact that the judicial system and law enforcement are in place to deal with legal matters and individuals who break the law.


It is difficult to assess the impact of social media in my life as I do not have a presence in any of the major social networking sites. However, as my family is in a constant state of movement (lived in three cities in 5 years), social media sites can help in maintaining contact with loved ones and friends. While there is potential for misuse, as shown in the Ronson case above, they can be very useful. However, the biggest drawback is that these sites provide a service in exchange of personal information that can generate revenues. One must be willing to give up a degree of information about themselves and potentially rights to any photographs or images posted on their site in order to use their services. For many, it's a worthwhile trade off.


Fitzpatrick, A. (2013). FBI Criticizes Internet Vigilantes in Boston Case. Mashable. Retrieved from

Ronson, J. (2015). 'Overnight, everything I loved was gone': the internet shaming of Lindsey Stone. Guardian News and Media. Retrieved from



  • Hi Nadir,

    I didn't see any either so also posted on my own! Very interesting topic on Internet vigilantism. It's hard to say whether people are in the right or wrong for publically voicing their thoughts against certain people. I see one danger that a mass of people can be easily influenced by what they see or read and to make assumptions and condemn the person before any proof can be made. The problem with judging just a picture, is that it is just that, there is no context or background. At least with our judicial system the person is considered innocent until proven guilty. But what is making me wonder is those actions online that are completely morally wrong, perhaps the internet shaming is a good thing? In some sense people are being controlled and punished by the mass for not right actions. I almost think that internet shaming is a much higher level of shaming then being prosecuted in a traditional means, as that information stays on the internet for a very long time. People can look you up and your past is very hard to erase. What are your thoughts Nadir?


    Leah Korganowski November 28, 2015 - 10:40pm

  • I believe that online shaming is abhorrent to be honest. If a crime was committed by an individual, justice should be served through law enforcement and the judicial system. If a law was not broken and an individiual simply committed a social crime (a la double dipping), people should just let it go. People do stupid things in their lives. It is inevitable. I do not think it is right to punish someone so mercilessly for a moment of poor judgement. I mean, people have lost their livelihood over photographs or a tweet, which were likely taken completely out of context.

    However, you raise a good point Leah. If an act is morally wrong, it is not necessarily illegal. Does society need to brandish pitchforks and take justice in their own hands? Yes, the dentist/hunter that hunted and killed Cecil the lion committed a deplorable act. I cannot deny that I was saddened that such a beautiful creature was taken from this planet for nothing more than sport. However, public shaming of the individual did not really achieve much in the long run. More could have been achieved through the combined effort of the shamers if they focussed on educating the public on the plight of endangered species (for instance).

    That being said, Jon Ronson came away from his encounter better off for the online shaming that resulted from him posting his interview on YouTube. The interview is hilarious by the way and a must-see. It can be found in my second reference in my post above.

    nmas November 28, 2015 - 11:03pm

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