Global peace seemed settled after the entrenchment of democracy and civilization over the world except some particular countries, however, bloodless battles between humans are still continuing in cyber space over the world. In the Internet society, basic norms and rules for communication and interactivity between internet users highly rely on individual consciousness and morality since it is hard to guide every user to behave in a certain way. Such unlimited freedom leads to an increase in public participation in many fields. On the other hands, it also causes a negative aspect that the Internet is used as a method of drastic protests and an infringement of someone’s privacy in the online community. Internet vigilantism can describe this phenomenon.
Internet vigilantism is the broad phenomenon of acting outside of criminal justice system to carry out vigilante missions through the Internet and/or the means of online applications. It is categorized into several types according to purposes. The most well-known examples are Anonymous, the online international organization for taking actions regarding protests, and public shaming which is to bring disgrace on people who do anti-social behaviors against what general society believes as justice, by publicizing their personal information via online. Although initial intention of these actions is merely warning people for building a better society, many cases go extremely harsh. People easily lose control of what degree of actions they need to take for justice of society under the Internet’s special condition of anonymity. Furthermore, the lack of central power over the World Wide Web plays a role in growing a vigilante reaction against certain behaviors.
The members of Anonymous originally focused on fighting for their damaged rights online and warning citizens who behoove inappropriately from the moral and ethical perspective. Anonymous disclosed personal information of targeted victims through the Web. For example, in 2009, a 13-year-old boy Kenny Glenn posted a video recording that he was abusing a cat on YouTube. After a minute, Anonymous found his personal information and let him being investigated for animal abuse in a local police. Now, Anonymous is more likely to cooperate together for protests against anti-piracy campaigns and internet censorship by governments. Also, it is associated with hacktivism and chiefly attacks companies or institutions that oppose to their philosophy.
Public shaming is a more intensified form than the early type of Anonymous by focusing on making targeted people whose behavior was socially irresponsible and immoral embarrassed not only locally but also internationally. It is more frequently and obviously found in Asia than in western countries, because it relates Asian values and norms that place emphasis on social responsibility and politeness inside groups. Particularly, online social networking tools have made dissemination of information on the Internet very rapid and wide and it results in much more serious damages attributed to attacks from anonymous people. Due to its severeness, it is also called as a Cyber terror.
In South Korea, a female university student called short men who are less than 6 feet tall “losers” in the popular TV program. After broadcasting, many people were furious about her comment and internet users searched for her personal information, such as her name, family, school and her blogs. They spread out what they found via SNS and a diversity of Web pages and rebuked her cruelly on her thoughtless remark. Even some users hacked into her school’s homepage to scorn her as well as her school. As a result, the school urged her to take a couple of years off from school. She had to be humiliated online as well as damaged pitilessly offline.
Interestingly, China has a very special tool for the effective accomplishment of public shaming; Human Flesh Search Engine. It is the network made up of massive Chinese internet users to identify and release information on a particular individual or group who deserve blame for acting immorally. Users who contribute to the search engine aim to achieve online vigilante justice by their own hands, punishing people who provoke an outburst of the public anger. Consequently, their action makes them feel shame openly and significantly damage their real life.
In early 2006, a short video was found on the China’s website and showing a middle-aged Chinese woman stomping a small kitten on the pavement with her stilettos until its death. Chinese internet users became seriously mad about her and made her the target for Human Flesh Search. Only six days after the first post about the video on the Mop, which is one of the Chinese Human Flesh Search engines, the kitten killer’s home, her name, her employers and even the cameraman who took the video, were all revealed publicly and they had to leave their hometown in the end.
Human Flesh Search Engine was originally developed for a good cause stimulating sharing a variety of information between humans, creating a search tool by human-powered rather than computer-driven. However, it is now used almost for a way to disclose every kind of private information of the public who deserve to be insulted in front of neighbor due to their undesirable behaviors.
Such examples of internet vigilantism indicate that the Internet could turn into the ruthless method of divulging private information of ordinary people to the world. This is derived from a lack of central control and a distinct characteristic of anonymity on the Internet. Before claiming secure protection for our privacy to Internet Service Providers(ISPs), it seems more important to look back how we have dealt with other people’s privacy, which is significant to them in the same way that we value on our information protection on the Web. Is it really crucial to act as a righteous person online by pointing out how other people behave poorly and rudely? It is time to consider what is really right for justice in the Internet society. We cannot abuse the value of a liberty of expression.