By Tina Tseng
The Internet makes everyone feel like vigilantes. Spot a foolish blogger or brash Youtuber? Then it’s clearly time to bring out the bashing, dig up some private information, and sic others on the target—all anonymously and conveniently with minimum accountability.
Take the case of a now-famous Internet meme, Jessi Slaughter. Earlier this year, the eleven-year-old posted risqué photos and obnoxious videos of herself on the Internet. A group named Anon from the online forum 4chan righteously stopped Jessi’s outrageous behavior with some of their own. Members of the group found and circulated her real name, phone number, and address to encourage spamming and prank-calling. After sufficient torture, they patted each other on the back and moved on.
Other instances of Internet “justice” are even more ridiculous. In 2002, a bright, young man named Daniel Lee graduated from Stanford University with two degrees. In a few years, he would be known as Tablo, leader of the famous Korean rap group Epik High. Lee’s accomplishments would also be the target of a large group of Internet users who insist that he lied about his Stanford education.
In Korea, where there is high pressure to achieve, celebrities have been known to fake degrees from prestigious colleges. So, perhaps these netizens, or people highly involved in online discussions, had a right to be suspicious. Then Tablo released a copy of his Stanford transcript and other documents. He filmed a documentary of his recent trip to the college, during which many old acquaintances and professors lent support. The Stanford Registrar himself verified his degree. Yet netizens refused to believe any of this.
Unbelievably, this isn’t just some scraggly bunch of troublemakers. The online group “We Urge Tablo To Tell the Truth” has over 133,100 members, according to the Stanford Daily. Wouldn’t it be nice if this manpower was used against, say, poverty? Instead, it is spent claiming that Tablo’s entire existence is a lie and that his whole family is fraudulent.
It all seems so trivial. He could be homeschooled by a monkey as long as he still made good music, right? Netizens disagree. Their goal is to expose his “lies” and, more importantly, ruin his life as punishment. Essentially, they are doing this in the name of justice.
We see the damaging power of the “just” cause. Come support this because it’s the right thing to do. Make this man’s life a living hell—he deserves it. People lap up the power trip, because its easy and anonymous to jump on the cyber-band wagon.
But stalking, loss of privacy, and psychological trauma are not just retribution or discipline for an eleven-year-old’s arrogance. And seniors will agree that not going to Stanford (let alone actually graduating from it like Tablo) is not supposed to ruin your life. The moral implications of stripping someone’s dignity get lost when mob mentality is at play, but they will later haunt everybody involved. Imagine when these Internet do-gooders have eleven-year-old daughters of their own.
Keep in mind that Internet bullying is not restricted to these extreme examples. Next time you feel like leaving a nasty comment on someone’s Formspring, pause before you throw away your individuality and conscience. Critical thinking in any situation is, well, critical. We don’t read those mind-bendingly deep books in English class for nothing, you know. ▪