Join the discussion: What are we to make of online vigilantism?

Compiled by Bethan Owen, Deseret News

Published: Wed, Aug. 20, 2014, 12:10 p.m. MDT

 Members of the online group Anonymous protest at an Occupy Wall Street event.

Members of the online group Anonymous protest at an Occupy Wall Street event.

(Wikimedia Commons)

Anonymous is a global network of online "hactivists," hackers and Internet users who “often have little in common other than a willingness to insert themselves into red-hot social and political situations,” according to the International Business Times. Most recently, the group has become involved in the chaos of Ferguson, Missouri, leading some to wonder whether Anonymous’ vigilantism has gone too far.

In Ferguson, Anonymous attempted to pressure the police department into releasing the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown, according to Mother Jones writer Josh Harkinson. Anonymous stated that it would release the name of the officer itself, and also threatened to release personal information about the chief of police’s daughter if the police did not release the name, according to Harkinson.

Anonymous did release the name of the officer, Harkinson continued, but the name was incorrect. As a result, Twitter suspended the Anonymous account.

“Half outlaw, half idealist, Anonymous has always operated at the margins of legitimacy, its tactics ranging from gumshoe detective work to illegal hacking and shameless PR stunts,” wrote Harkinson.

The Washington Post interviewed McGill University professor Gabriella Coleman about Anonymous, specifically what it means for the group when Anonymous is wrong.

“Already it’s a controversial act even when it’s right,” she told the Post. “So when it’s wrong, it’s doubly controversial. And again, it's controversial even within Anonymous. There were some people in there saying, ‘Can we hold off on this until there’s more research?’ ”

It’s not the first time Anonymous has falsely accused someone, Coleman said. Andrea Peterson, also from the Post, wrote that when the group accuses the wrong person, it can put that person in danger.

Despite these factors, Anonymous has fans and defenders.

“On the whole, the group is actually pretty accurate,” Coleman said of the group, and Anonymous has helped in distributing information in Ferguson.

“Audio recordings released by the group Wednesday that appear to show confusion among dispatchers on the day of the shooting were confirmed as authentic by the county police,” wrote Peterson.

Local rapper Tef Poe told the Post that “Anonymous has been an important source of information for those on the ground — amplifying relevant news on Twitter and serving as a source of new information as the local population struggles with the lack of new facts about the Brown shooting from local law enforcement.

"The only facts that the people of St. Louis and Ferguson get — the only new leads — are from Anonymous, because the police department won't tell us anything," Poe said.

Bethan Owen is a writer for the Deseret News Moneywise and Opinion sections. Twitter: BethanO2

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue
Nov. 11, 2013
1. 2 bits
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
Aug. 20, 2014

Question... Has online vigilantism actually CHANGED anything? Or are the same things still happening... just more underground and secret?

I think the same things are still going on. Just more secret now.


The masked man's sign says, "The honest support us"... Why would ANYBODY trust or support somebody who wears a mask and works in secret combinations??

We at least know who our Government leaders are (and we can un-elect them)... we don't even know who the leaders of this organization are!


Question... Could you remove the leader of this guy's organization if HE became corrupt??? You don't even know who he is!

Is that what you support??? A secret group of unelected people that work in secret and hide behind masks, and break our laws?

Even though I agree with some of their general sentiments... I have a hard time supporting them (because of their illegal tactics and their secret combinations). So I'll continue to use the ballot box (instead of these masked-vigilantes) to change corruption in our government.

And no... the whole answer is NOT to just unelect all Republicans (thought it may be a good start).

2. Shimlau
Aug. 20, 2014

2 bits, I don't think the answer is to "unelect all Republicans", but to unelect them all!

3. KWL
Bountiful, UT,
Aug. 20, 2014

The Spanish-American War has been blamed on "yellow journalism," papers that were allowed to publish rumors and wild speculations--even outright lies--as facts. Maybe some believed they were telling the truth. Maybe they had the best of intentions. Maybe some really believed the American ship, The Maine, had been deliberately destroyed by the Spanish.

But, it wasn't true. The war was based on an exploding boiler. That's what can happen when people printing news aren't bound to be certain they're telling the truth.

4. LDS Liberal
Farmington, UT,
Aug. 21, 2014

I'm all FOR it.
I support it.

5. 2 bits
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
Aug. 21, 2014


Re: "I don't think the answer is to "unelect all Republicans", but to unelect them all"...

If that's your REAL opinion (not just talk)... Then I hope you didn't vote for Bennett (and supported those who ousted him).

And I hope you didn't vote for Hatch (and supported those who wanted to replace him).

And the same for Matheson... You voted for Mia Love.. Right???

Are you consistent? Do you just talk... or do you actually DO what you say?


We have too many Democrats and Republicans who say "Vote them ALL out"... but then they get mad at anybody why actually DOES what they say... and actually votes incumbents out of office!


We got Bennett out of office... and have received no end of grief from you guys ever since...

We TRIED to get Hatch out of office... but couldn't get you guys to support that move.

Matheson saw the writing on the wall and refused to run... or I suspect you would be for HIS re-election too! Even after saying "Vote them ALL out"...

That's the problem... don't just talk... do what you say. Vote them ALL out!