Q– How is justice served within online communities when governance of digital technologies fails?

A– Online vigilantism………


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Ever wonder how cyberbullies, identity thieves, cyber-attackers, scammers, online stalkers, and other digital criminals get their just deserts.  There is a team of internet vigilantes looking out for the online community. Online vigilantism, aliased as netilantism or digilantism, has online criminals thinking twice and always looking over their shoulder for digital avengers.  Technically, defined by Techopedia, 2018, “Internet vigilantism describes online actions that are oriented toward monitoring the actions of others. It refers to individuals or groups that take grassroots action, rather than work through regional or national justice systems.  In short, Internet vigilantes “police” the online realm, preventing and responding to digital crimes all with the push of a button.


How to Become  an Online Vigilante

Becoming an online vigilante is quite easy- knowledge of how to use a computer, access to digital spaces targeted by online bullies and criminals, an account to be able to respond to online abusers, and in some cases coding and advanced computer skills to outmatch the skills of online criminals.  Online vigilantism takes place in environments typically not policed or governed, where information and access to others is often times free, publicly accessible, and easily searchable. Want to learn more about the basics of being an online vigilante, click here.   


Specialized techniques of the Online Vigilante

The use of the Internet is pervasive in developed societies.  With over one billion Internet users globally, information gathering and sharing occurs every second.  This creates a digital atmosphere ripe with opportunities for some to commit crimes. Online vigilantes take matters into their own hands using methods such as scam baiting, public shaming, denials of service, and other internet based approaches.  Whether online crimes are unlawful or socially unacceptable, vigilantes fight back, sometimes with questionable tactics of their own.


A technique used by online vigilantes to help protect legitimate online users from being “baited” by online thieves.  As defined by Reddit, 2018, “ Scambaiting– the practice of feigning interest in a fraudulent scheme in order to waste a scammer’s time and keep them away from real victims”.  

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Public Shaming/Online Shaming

Online shaming by digital vigilantes is the online act of retaliating against a particular person, groups of persons, organizations, etc. with the intent to shame among a broad audience.  Online shaming can be effective in producing desired results, such was the case with Martin Shkreli.  There are however instances where online vigilantes misidentify their targets, such as the case of Kyle Quinn.  Kyle’s story is a great example of one of the major pitfalls of online vigilantism- acting out of impulse and emotion to criminal or social injustice.

Listening to Jon Ronson, the dynamics of online shaming and online vigilantism can be better understood:



Akkermans, M. (2015). Jon ronson: When online shaming spirals out of control. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhwBgBRwMDw

CBS News. (2017). Internet shaming: When mob justice goes virtual. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/internet-shaming-when-mob-justice-goes-virtual/

Dewey, C. (2015). The successful internet shaming of ‘pharma bro’ martin shkreli. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2015/09/23/the-successful-internet-shaming-of-pharma-bro-martin-shkreli/?utm_term=.03ed5b0398fb

Reddit. (2018). Scambait. Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/scambait/

Ronson, J. (2015). When online shaming goes too far. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/jon_ronson_what_happens_when_online_shaming_spirals_out_of_control

Techopedia. (2018). Internet vigilantism. Retrieved from https://www.techopedia.com/definition/29629/internet-vigilantism

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