(Online?) Mob Justice


Teju Cole, ‘Perplexed … Perplexed’: On Mob Justice in Nigeria, The Atlantic (Oct. 2012):

Lynching is common in Nigeria. Extrajudicial killing is often the fate of those accused of kidnapping and armed robbery, but also of those suspected of minor crimes like pickpocketing. These incidents, if reported at all, get one or two paragraphs in the newspapers and are forgotten.

What many of these societies have in common is a crisis of modernity. People, finding themselves surrounded by newly complex circumstances, and finding themselves sharing space with neighbors whom they do not know and with whom they don’t necessarily share traditions, defend themselves in terrible new ways. The old customs have passed away, and the new, less reassuring, less traditional modes of life are struggling to be born. Mobs arise out of this crisis. They are a form of impatience.

Compare Tom Downey, China’s Cyberposse, The New York Times Magazine (Mar. 3, 2012):

Human-flesh search engines — renrou sousuo yinqing — have become a Chinese phenomenon: they are a form of online vigilante justice in which Internet users hunt down and punish people who have attracted their wrath. The goal is to get the targets of a search fired from their jobs, shamed in front of their neighbors, run out of town. It’s crowd-sourced detective work, pursued online — with offline results.

And see the long list of incidents described in the Wikipedia article on Internet vigilantism, and query whether they items differ significantly from the incidents of mob harassment detailed in Danielle Citron’s Cyber Civil Rights.

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