By Michaella Donovan
Amanda Todd’s recent suicide, after being bullied relentlessly, sparked many arguments regarding what to do with alleged bullies, particularly those who select their victims online.
Consequently, hacktivists, such as the online group “Anonymous,” have perceived what they believe is a justifiable way to avenge the victim: it’s called Internet vigilantism. However, Internet vigilantism is unwarranted, as hacktivists cause irreparable damage to the reputations of their victims and, ironically, become bullies themselves.
Recently, Anonymous dedicated its advanced hacking and Internet-manipulating tactics to avenging Amanda Todd. “Anonymous” is a community of online activists, or hacktivists, who have taken it upon themselves to police the Internet. Anonymous exercised their hacking skills and found who they believed to be Amanda Todd’s original tormentor. Before long, Anonymous released a video on YouTube, and attached was a link with the name, address, and other personal information of the alleged bully.
The public’s collective emotions turned from mournfulness and sadness to rage. Amanda Todd supporters began posting wretched diatribes on his Facebook page, some uttering threats and calling for his death. Ironically, a short time ago the public scolded bullies who posted crude remarks. Now, thanks to Anonymous, the public has been converted into a modern day digital mob, or Internet vigilantes, essentially becoming the monster they abhorred.
Many issues surround the legitimateness of Anonymous’ claims and their means of discovering such information. First of all, Anonymous is, for a lack of better words, anonymous. Anyone can be in the online group; therefore, anyone can make claims—even false ones—that the public and media will take seriously.
“For Anonymous, there’s a fine line between hacktivism and harassment” (Ligeti). Secondly, there’s a strong possibility that they have the wrong person. In fact, Anonymous did have the wrong man, but that was only discovered after his reputation was bruised beyond recognition. As a result, the damage caused when hacktivists make unverified accusations is irreversible and unmerited. Anonymous’ greatest strength isn’t hacking the Internet: it’s hacking the public. Fundamentally, Internet vigilantism is no more just than the original bully.
Hacktivists severely interfere with law enforcement system as well. Although hacktivists have good intentions when they break into systems to gather evidence, they just end up tainting evidence that could have been useful in putting criminals behind bars.
For example, Anonymous did a commendable act by bringing down a child pornography network; on the other hand, they interfered with an ongoing investigation, scattered the masterminds behind the network, and may have destroyed any incriminating evidence that could have been used against those people (“Hacktivism: Going After Amanda Todd’s Tormenter” Radio). If they had only given what helpful information they had to the authorities, perhaps both the site and its creators would have been shut down. Anonymous is like a bull in a china shop. While pursuing their objective, they wreak havoc on the surroundings, completely unaware of the damage and destruction they cause.
Internet vigilantes, hacktivists, digital mob, Anonymous, whatever the name, although their intentions may be honorable, they are oblivious to the disastrous mess they leave behind: reputations are tarnished, investigations are abolished, and lives are ruined.
Amanda Todd’s story is shocking and heartbreaking, to say the least. Yet, her family hasn’t been able to rest, as Anonymous keeps digging deeper, meddling in her case when they had no right. No matter how much law enforcers want Anonymous to keep its nose out of investigations, they know it can’t be controlled. As the mob was protected in numbers in the past, these unpredictable hacktivists are viruses protected in cyberspace.
Regardless, Internet vigilantism is unmerited. The damage caused to their targets’ lives is unjust. As the vindictive hacktivists seek their vicious retribution, they commit an act just as cruel as bullying itself.
Michaella Donovan is Grade 12 student at Three Oaks Senior High School in Summerside.
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