Finding Justice on the Internet

It was almost impossible to walk though Loyola’s Water Tower Campus last Friday, and not feel the exciting pulse of Anita Sarkeesian’s presence. With the disappointment still lingering from her last scheduled appearance at Utah State University it was, in a way comforting to know that Loyola University Chicago was doing everything possible not to repeat the same outcome. Frankly to see the increased security measures during the Digital Ethics Symposium made me feel special to be a part of something so controversial. However I was also saddened to think that people like Sarkeesian, who has only voiced her opinions and brought light to uncharted topics can still face harassments in the United States by doing so.

Unfortunately, I was unable so hear Anita Sarkeesian speak, but I did hear other guest speakers who helped me to understand the serious ethical breeches that continue to trouble our technologically advanced world. Dara N. Byrne, PhD, has researched what she calls digilantes, or digital vigilantes. This term is used for people who seek radical justice intended for the digital world. Think of this as the Batmen and women of the internet. However, instead of maintaining justice and peace throughout the online world, these specific digilantes find extreme pleasure in humiliating and dehumanizing those whom have victimized others on the internet. Byrne used the digilante group 419’s response to the popular Nigerian e-mail scam in the late 1990’s as a way to illustrate her argument.



Dara N. Byrne, PhD

She used this scam as an example to legitimize her argument because the Nigerian e-mail scam marks the first time “National Consumers League’s National Fraud Information Center launched (an) Internet Fraud Watch to focus much-needed attention on cybercrime.” Byrne said.

419 Digilantism emerged because this group saw the measures taken by law enforcements to fight cybercrime as inadequate. The Digilantes in this group would force those who were known to cyber scam artists to commit humiliating and dangerous acts such as branding themselves and taking nude photos and post them on the internet. In a way this satisfied the Digilantes need for justice.

I will not go into complete details of Byrne’s brief presentation last Friday, but her argument does raise a few questions about how victims of internet scams and bullying can achieve a sense of justice. Where can the lines be drawn to indicate that someone has completely gotten even with their offender?

Because there are a lack of laws to protect people from becoming victims of scams and harassment on the internet, I can understand why someone, wronged through this medium would want to seek justice done on their behalf. Anita Sarkeesian comes to mind. However the justice sought out by the Digilantes described in Byrne’s presentation, portrays a very primal “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” approach. Can it be considered justice to harass a harasser, or does this method further the harassment?

Unfortunately, as a person who has not gone through such hardships on the internet, I do not have an answer for any of my questions, but I suppose that this is the issues here. No one, not even law makers have an idea what to do about crimes committed on the internet. In a way each time we enter this medium, we are entering a world of potential unprecedented crime with no answers. So while I understand why a group of people, who have been victims of crime on the internet, feel forced to take the law into their own hands I am also skeptical of their definition of justice.


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