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! "