There have been several times when Internet communities have banded together to do incredible amounts of good. Just take a look at these ‘Internet Acts’ for a few examples.
There are even times when they try to fight injustice and crimes that happen outside of the virtual space, in the real world. However, the Internet is still made up of everyday people with everyday follies, and just like real life, are prone to a hive mind mentality.
And this hive mind can be a dangerous thing once they’ve picked their target. And the target doesn’t even have to be guilty. The group could just easily be looking for someone to blame for a crime.
There have been several instances where when a crime is perpetrated, Internet vigilantes try to figure out who did it, sometimes, actually oftentimes, getting the wrong person, putting the lives of the accused in danger. Here are 5 cases of when Internet vigilantes didn’t save the day.
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1. Reddit Didn’t Find The Boston Bombers
The Reddit investigation to find the Boston Bomber in 2013 has somewhat become a poster child for what could happen when you have a bunch of random Internet sleuths trying to find the identity of a wanted killer. What you get is a bunch of false accusations against innocent people made by a potentially dangerous mob of angry people. In other words, a classic witch hunt.
All discussions were made on r/FindBostonBombers and while the rule was to not post personal information, several of the accused were identified. It did not help that mainstream media also fueled the witch hunt by putting the photos of the accused on their front page.
One of them was even found dead, 22-year-old Sunil Tripathi, though officials ruled out foul play. Reddit admins apologized with the subreddit no longer publicly available. As stated before, the incident is often used to highlight how Internet vigilantism can go wrong very fast due to the lack of fact checking by the people involved.
2. The Wrong Cop In Ferguson
What happened in Ferguson was a wake up call for racial relations in America. What made it even worst was the perception by many black residents that the mainly white police department was protecting the shooter by withholding the name.
The whole incident led to a lot of anger on social media sites, with some from the hacker collective known as Anonymous threatening to find and release any information they can get their hands on.
They did just that, releasing a 2 hour dispatch tape for the night of the incident. It was also claimed that they obtained the identity of the shooter and threatened to release the information to the public. The identity was eventually released on an Anonymous affiliated Twitter account.
But there was a slight problem: it was the wrong guy. Twitter then banned the account and the actual identity of the shooter, Darren Wilson, was released by the department.
@TheAnonMessage Bryan Willman is not even an officer with Ferguson or St. Louis County PD. Do not release more info on this random citizen.
– St. Louis County PD (@stlcountypd) August 14, 2014
3. Sandy Hook Shooting
The Sandy Hook Shooting that took place at the end of 2012 was a tragedy that took the lives of 20 school children and 6 adult staff members. It is considered to be the deadliest school shooting in the US. And in the process of identifying the perpetrator of the shooting, many got the name mixed up.
Quite a few mainstream news media got the name of the shooter wrong as they based it on reports by unnamed authorities that were not officially released yet. They singled out Ryan Lanza, the brother of the actual shooter, Adam Lanza. Unfortunately, this mattered little to the online social media communities, which then proceeded to gather an online lynch mob, that called for the usual death threats.
It was cleared up when officials released the identity of his brother. Though Internet vigilantes did not release the name, their hive mind hate and actions only made the situation worse.
4. Amanda Todd’s Suicide
Amanda Todd was a Canadian teen who committed suicide in 2012 when she was the victim of an online bullying campaign from a stalker. The entire ordeal generated a lot of sympathy from the online community and thus a hunt for the perpetrator was launched.
When it comes to hunting down someone, no other group on the Internet is as relentless as the hacker collective known as Anonymous. While the actual authorities were still figuring out who the stalker was, Anonymous went ahead and released the personal information of a man located in Vancouver, who they claimed is the one behind the suicide.
Again, as most can probably guess from reading this article: wrong man. Even some of the info they released on the man was wrong. Though the man was accused of sexual assault, he claimed that he was helping Todd and tipped the authorities to another suspect. This was then revealed by Anonymous. The real culprit actually turned out to be a 35 year old Dutch man.
5. Andrew Moskowitz Doesn’t work Here
This is an incident that wasn’t about a single individual being outed by mistake. Instead, this story is about a pair of companies that was caught in the crossfire when the Internet lynch mob went out looking for a racist hiring manager.
Andrew Moskowitz made some disparaging remarks on those who had “African sounding names” and said that he would never hire them on one of New York Times‘ Facebook comment thread. This riled up the Internet with righteous fury and a campaign was instigated on Twitter and Tumblr to find the company he works with.
Internet denizens started to accuse 2 cotton plants located in Monroe, Georgia – the Monroe Cotton Mill and the Cotton Warehouse – of hiring Moskowitz, based on his online activity. Unfortunately, this online activity was him checking in at the Cotton Mill, with the Cotton Warehouse being confused as it was another popular landmark.
The false accusation led to a lot of misplaced anger and complaints towards the two companies, with their Yelp and Facebook page invaded by the netizens. In fact, the two companies never even heard of a man named Andrew Moskowitz, with the Internet just looking for a scapegoat to blame.
https://t.co/xalvcRqePu has a disclaimer on their webpage(!) that Moskowitz doesn't work for them. I'm prepared to take them at their word.
– Dan Holzman-Tweed (@HolzmanTweed) September 22, 2013