Monday, January 2, 2012

Internet Vigilantism: When Does It Go Too Far?

The internet is an impossibly huge thing these days. In the age of social media, connectivity is at an unprecedented high and we are dealing with that fact as a society every day. Whether it be cyber bullying, dangerous hacking, or pirating we hear about the dangers of such a large Internet and they, understandably, scare us. Like many cliched comic books, the Gotham City of the Internet is not without it's so-called saviors.  
Take Anonymous, for example. The uber popular hacking group has not only committed several acts of cyber-terrorism, they have also taken up multiple crusades against individuals who they deem a threat to internet freedom. 
Recently, Anonymous released a threatening statement against Sony, warning the company of an upcoming attack that would be conducted because of the companies' lobbying and support of the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill which Internet users have almost unanimously opposed. A bill which, in my opinion, is very bad and should be stopped. 
However, is this threat actually constructive? That's dubious, at best. After all, it would not be outlandish to suggest that Sony's involvement in SOPA could very well have stemmed in part from attacks on the companies online gaming service, Playstation Network, last year. Attacks conducted by affiliates of Anonymous. Something of self-damnation, on behalf of Anonymous. Of course, I highly doubt Anonymous cares much about the results of their actions. 

Or, take the controversy surrounding Ocean Marketing's Paul Christoforo. Now, obviously the guy- made world famous for verbally abusing an inquisitive customer and then being an unapologetic douchebag about it- deserves to be ridiculed for his harmful activities, and his lack of social and grammatical skills. I get it. However, are the threats against Paul really necessary? Are all the hate mails and Tweets aimed directly at this egotist really meant to do anything but add some more dry wood to an already raging fire? Do you really expect Paul to realize the err of his ways because of your venomous attack on him and reform? 
Do we even know much about this man, or his mental status? Do we have any real context besides emails that could have, possibly, been altered? Or are we, as Internet users, so hell-bent on finding somebody or something to crucify that we would abandon all ideas of objective thought? Something as unremarkable as a douchey PR guy becomes an Internet sensation not because we genuinely feel for the victim or the perpetrator, but because we just really need somebody to hate? 

Of course, I'm guilty of doing the same thing. I was all over Paul, using snidbits of my colorful vocabulary to describe his actions. And I even wrote off Anonymous' threat against Sony because I had it in my mind that Sony 'had it coming', that they deserved to have to underpay and overwork their employees because they have to clean up after Anonymous' actions. Like their company policy damned the workers who had no control over any of it. 
I'm not saying we should never stand up for ourselves and our rights. On the contrary, I am asking that we more carefully use these rights and be better for their existence. Freedom of speech is useless if no one is really saying anything. 

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