Is it ever OK to go vigilante?
Vigilantes are often portrayed as heroes in the movies. Clint Eastwood has made a career out of acting the part. But Eastwood’s not the best example of a modern day vigilante. I always picked him as more of a 4WD kinda’ guy, instead of someone who zooms around the inner suburbs of your nearest city perched on a bike and decked out in lycra.
As our open thread reported yesterday, an online community of Sydney cyclists are hunting down the occupants of a dark red Mitsubishi, who are alleged to have attacked a cyclist with fists and, oddly enough, batteries. The drivers are no fans of Le Tour de France, that’s for sure. “Energise THIS, Lance Armstrong!”
The cyclist in question, Chris Moore, doesn’t want vengeance. He says he isn’t going to press charges. “I think a better outcome would be if these people were able to gain a bit of insight, and empathise with other road users,” he wrote on Reddit.
Not every vigilante would be so compassionate though. I’m sure Clint wouldn’t. And technology’s made taking justice into your own hands that much easier - which isn’t always a good thing.
Think back to the 2005 Cronulla riots. Young men took to the streets to bash up people with a darker skin tone than themselves not only because of Alan Jones was ranting about it, but because their mates texted them saying to go down to the beach and bash some people.
The mob was angry because of a perceived injustice. And when nothing seemed to be happening, their flip-phones beeped and a bunch of young men realised, hey, we can all get together right now and teach these people a lesson. Who needs the cops or the courts? Not these guys.
It’s easy to project a similar fiasco unfolding if people who weren’t as sensible as these cyclists identified someone as a threat online.
What would happen if someone posted up a picture of the house that a convicted paedophile was living in? One who has served his time and has been judged to no longer be a threat to the community. Surely we’d see people take “justice” into their own hands.
No matter how righteous the vigilantes would think they were, it’d be a recipe for anarchy.
Technology isn’t just enabling law and order vigilantes. It’s enabling political ones as well.
Just take a look at Wikileaks and hacker group Anonymous. You could say these organisations have done some good things. Wikileaks brought attention to huge amount of material the US government needlessly keeps classified by leaking thousands of State Department cables. Anonymous hacked the Syrian defence ministry’s website and splayed the home page with a symbol of the pro-democracy movement.
Both groups have carried out some pretty questionable acts, though.
Often vigilantes act out because they feel nothing is being done to help them or because they feel their principles are being stamped on. And sometimes they need to. Vigilantes organised themselves through Facebook and Twitter to topple dictators throughout the Arab World last year. The online cyclist community might bring Chris Moore’s assailants to some kind of justice.
But when an angry mob can be conjured up at the click of a finger, you’ve got to hope the people who know how to dole out justice the right way are plugged in to what people are feeling.
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