There’s no doubt that the increased use of technology in our everyday lives has in many ways been a good thing. It’s now easier and faster than ever before to shop online, catch up with friends and take care of banking and other routine tasks from behind the screen. But advances in technology have also had a number of unintended consequences, including facilitating criminal activity and allowing people to use new social media platforms take matters into their own hands when it comes to combating crime.
As well as enabling criminal behaviour, technology has also provided a means for vigilantes to find and highlight alleged criminals, and in some cases, get revenge for supposed wrongs. Unfortunately this type of vigilantism, although well meaning, can have negative consequences, and can even be dangerous in certain situations. Information that is obtained via social media platforms is not always accurate or reliable, which means that even if the people involved hand over their information to the relevant law enforcement agencies, they may not get the results they were hoping for.
From alleged sex offenders to vandals, technology has been used by a number of different groups and members of the public to try to name and shame those suspected of crimes.
The Tinder experiment
It was recently revealed that a group of young people in Melbourne have set up a false profile of a 15-year-old girl on popular dating site Tinder as a way to catch paedophiles operating online. As Tinder users themselves, the creators of the experiment claim that they were concerned at the amount of illicit activity they saw during their time on the site, and they set up the experiment to gain a greater understanding of the mindset of the people who were involved.
The profile lists the girl’s age as 18 but later explains that she is just 15. Video footage of men approaching and interacting with the girl was recorded, along with her interactions with two men who went to her house to meet her, believing she was at home alone.
The creators of the experiment claim that although some men were shocked when they learned they were chatting with an underage girl, a large number of them weren’t concerned at the thought they were talking to a 15-year-old, and continued to pursue the girl.
A 21-year-old actress posed as the 15-year-old girl, and two other men posed as her brother to chase the men off before anything serious took place. The videos of the actress’s encounters with older men were then posted online. The methods used by the group were not condoned by Victoria Police. Police expressed concerns that the trio could be endangering themselves, even though they claimed they had a number of measures in place to protect themselves. Police are apparently investigating the video footage.
Vigilantes are not a new phenomenon
This is not the first attempt by members of the public to capture allegedly illicit activity via social media. In 2013, a vigilante posted footage of three young people graffiti tagging a train carriage in a bid to deter them. The footage, which went viral on YouTube and Facebook, also showed the man confronting the vandals and attempting to make a citizen’s arrest. He only stopped when one of the youths produced a rock and threatened him.
In the Northern Territory, an online vigilante group set up in Darwin on Christmas Eve has already gathered over 100 members. Local residents, fed up with the high rates of crime and the apparent ineffectiveness of the police in dealing with the number of young people vandalising, stealing cars and lighting fires, have apparently taken to patrolling the streets.
Is vigilantism a good thing?
Whether or not members of the public should take the law into their own hands is the subject of much debate. With technology making it easier than ever before for the community to publish details of alleged criminals, vigilantism has never been easier but it does come with risks for those involved.
As well as the obvious risks to personal safety that can arise from confronting alleged offenders or in the case of the Tinder experiment, allowing potential sex offenders into their homes, police may be reluctant to act upon information gathered by citizens through such unauthorised and potentially dangerous operations.
Vigilantism also bypasses the criminal justice system and the right of people to a legal court process if they have been accused of a crime. If a minority take the law into their own hands and try to decide what is right and what is wrong, as well as meting out their own punishments, this is a direct contravention of the principles of justice in Australia.
With technology developing at an ever-increasing rate it is likely that we will continue to see vigilantes using social media and other forms of technology to apply their own form of justice, regardless of the risks.