mob psychology, revenge, and social media

i am appalled at the people sharing photos of a person now subject of a police manhunt on suspicions of fatally shooting a biker. only yesterday, these same people participated in the public lynching of a man they did not know: they called him all kinds of evil names and threatened him with humiliation, torture, and execution. i am disgusted at their false calls for justice, when they are quick to inflict injustice on a person whose participation in a crime was established by a mistake. they rush into judgment when they have no personal knowledge of the person's guilt, and make no attempts to masquerade their thirst for online blood and social media revenge. they bang on their keyboards and click on buttons, eager to assist the authorities in finding this person of interest, forgetting that for an entire day, they whipped and crucified the wrong man. has anyone apologized for the hatred we imposed on this innocent man, for the trauma and pain caused by our misguided activism?

some years back, a friend of mine became the subject of an online smear campaign. i read an account of a person whom he allegedly begrudged, and the story was shared by people on my friends list: people who were quick to make conclusions about him as though they knew him, as though they were familiar with the facts. i wasn't quick to judge him. but i was even in less of a rush to defend him. i had his number on my phone and called him to ask what no one seemed to be interested in: the truth.

this is the reason why i have never taken part in bandwagons that shame people online: because we know nothing, or at least, we do not know everything. even when people i know share personal experiences that are damning against someone else, i am not quick to click "share". it is not that i do not believe them. it is that i do not have the complete story. it is that complaints are always tainted by bias to favor the complainant: to paint themselves as victims, to depict the defenders as oppressors.

i do not doubt that some good has come out of online shame campaigns, and i am also certain that many armchair sleuths have provided investigators with vital information. but i am also sure that while our purpose is to teach bad people a lesson, we also contribute to the suffering of individuals. and not just those who are wrongly accused, but the accused themselves. why can't they be allowed to suffer punishment in private? we all have our reasons for riding these streams of anger. perhaps we want to help make society better for ourselves and for our children. perhaps we believe that some people deserve to be disembowelled in public. and that is precisely why in modern civilizations, those decisions are better left to impartial third persons. the next time you think you're doing a public service by sharing stories that tend to cast ignominy on anyone, remember always that defamation destroys lives.

and yours could so easily be next.