Riot vigilantes speak for themselves

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In the past couple of days I’ve heard from people who were initially enthusiastic about the crowdsourcing of rioter identification, but now see the concern with this kind of vigilantism. I’d love to take credit, but I’m not the most convincing voice in this argument.

The real argument for restraint comes from the folks who are participating in online identification efforts on Facebook and blogs. As the week wears on, it’s the tenor of comments posted about the rioters has included many nasty, racist, misogynistic or generally hateful remarks. It’s the angry, prejudiced and even violent tone of comments that has more and more people what is scary about the other mob — the one that has materialized online.

I suspect with good intentions, the managers of some of the sites and Facebook pages tracking riot participants have taken it up on themselves to edit out the most hateful comments. It’s a great example of what makes censorship dangerous: by taking away the most egregiously hateful examples, we’re left with the impression of a far more restrained call for justice than what has actually unfolded online. Leaving those comments up would force the convenors of these mobs to recognize the kind of hostile mentality these sites have unleashed, and allow others to form their own judgements of whether crowdsourcing the identification of riot participants is appropriate or scary.

To that end I’ve snapped a few choice comments that give you some sense of what concerns me about the sentiments unfolding online. They’re in no way representative, nor do they really capture the worst of what’s been posted: I came across many extensive threads that criticized racist comments, in which the originating (racist) comment had been deleted.

And that should tell you the other sense in which these comments are unrepresentative: they don’t reflect the extraordinary backlash to the backlash that is unfolding on every “riot justice” site I have seen. It doesn’t take an op-ed or blog post for people to see for themselves what is frightening about the emergent online mob, and hundreds if not thousands of people are out there challenging the mob and speaking up for due process.

It a week that has made me fear the speed at which mobs can emerge, both online and off, these folks have given me hope. I can see how many people have both the instinct and the courage to speak up against vigilantism, racism and plain old meanness. They’re my heroes.

From Vancouver Riot Pics on Facebook:

Treat them like animals

Facebooker says let's ship them to Afghanistan

A facebook comments says we should round them up

Describes a 14 year old as a "stupid little cunt"

"Wish I would be behind that dude about to sucker punch him with a rock.."

From Public Shaming Eternus:

"Stick a rag in this fuckers asshole and i bet there would be line up of people waiting to light it! "

5 Comments on this site

  1. Christopher Libby

    Just as you don’t defend the actions of the rioters while questioning the methods of catching them, I won’t defend the words of the writers while questioning your assumption of moral equivalence to the actions of the rioters.

    Just as you condemn the censorship of the most egregious comments by moderators, and note the backlash that repudiates them, you fail to point out that this is the function of a self-moderating system. As the days have passed and tempers have ebbed and risen, so too have the self-moderating functions of the system.

    You serve an important function in that system by urging caution in a highly visible forum. I hope that as the days pass (keeping in mind we have yet to week the 1 week mark in this activity), you will revisit this issue to see how well (or poorly) this self-moderating system has worked.

  2. Franklin Liao

    I will add to Christopher Libby in that loose-lipped knee-jerk reactions are nothing new for online media.  It would be a total folly to assume that the Internet Hate Machine would violate the laws of thermodynamics and operate the hate indefinitely, when attention has known to be a fickle thing.   The steam is quickly lost to other matters that come and go at the blink of an eye.

    On self-moderating, we must be reminded that no single online community operates on the assumption of democracy.  All discussions are participated under the managing framework set by an oligarchy pyramid of the discussion thread admin and then the board system admin, and going all the way to the owner of the very hosting site.  The enforcement of the outlines set forth by the administrator(s) carry the weight of precedence and jurisdiction for the community in question.

    Bleeding hearts, finally, fare poorly when sailing in the sea of Internet diatribes.  The words will be used by troll provokers to elicit an angry flurry of response, as that provides the entertainment value for their ‘lulz’. 

  3. PoorBehaviour

    The association of the word “vigilantism” with the comments made about rioters appears to be chosen for about the same reasons you castigate those making the comments eg you want to shame them for being “vigilantes”.

    Your argument originally in previous posts has been about the potential
    dangers of online shaming and repercussions of its use in cases of
    political, religious, or other persecution.

    But you are now painting with a wide and indiscrimate brush all those who are online identifying those individuals who displayed such poor behaviour in public.   Not all of these “netizens” (to use the Chinese online phenomena equivalent vernacular) are are making “nasty, racist, misogynistic or generally hateful remarks”.

    Further, using “vigilantism” to describe identifying the poor behaviour by individual online is not accurate.  A “vigilante” is one who takes Law into his own hands.    Publicly shaming another person for their poor public behaviour is not about the Law.   Police and courts are not in the public shaming business, they are in the law and order business.   It is about social convention.  It is our job as “society” to offer up standards, dynamically selected, by which we think our fellowes should abide. 

    We would all be better served if you, and others like you, dropped these inaccurate and inappropriate references to “vigilantism” and more
    specifically and simply referred to  the “nasty, racist, misogynistic or
    generally hateful remarks” and take to task those that make them. 

  4. Bill

    I just saw Miss Samuel’s comments on the CBC National news tonight condemning the so-called actions of the British government on why the criminal thugs are committing their criminal and terrorist-related acts of savage, arson, assault, and anarchy. 

    Based on Samuel’s non-condemning of the actions of the criminal thugs destroying businesses and her “disgust” against vigilantists bloggers identifying these first-class losers (in the above article), I would question the (taxpayer-funded) Emily Carr University’s lack of supervision on some of its employees’ opinions on the vast majority of Canadians who are law-abiding citizens and don’t commit criminal acts like these losers in England (and here in Vancouver in June) did.

    No doubt Samuel will condemn law-abiding and professional citizens like myself as anti-Canadian (even though I was born here) and probably anti-everything that she claims to be holier-than-thou on.

    How unfortunate people like Samuel condone the criminals and not the regular folk. Makes me wonder if we should stop funding (taxpayer-funded) “educational” institutions like Emily Carr University.

  5. Alexandra Samuel

    Bill, thanks so much for your comment, since it gives me a chance to provide a little context on that very brief excerpt from the interview I did today. My comment about the policy context for the riot was in response to a question that asked if social media had caused the UK riots; I said that Twitter and Facebook weren’t the cause of the riots, and that it makes more sense to ask about the causal role of British government policy than it does to ask about the causal role of social media. 


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