If you’ve been part of the wonderfully terrible place that is the internet, then you may know that it is a melting pot of memes, viral videos, political activism, rule 34, and Wikipedia pages that teach you more about a unit than reading through lecture slides ever did. Among this chaos, social media keeps us connected to one another. Playing an integral part of how we keep up to date with current events and communicate online. With this interconnectivity, our information can be shared at the touch of a button, making personal information easier to access and ultimately scrutinise. Social media gives us a platform to allow anyone to both judge and be judged for their behaviour online and off. With this ability to judge it brings into question what the real-life ramifications of this online, amateur justice system are.
Controversial opinions or careless comments are out there for the entire internet to scrutinise; one wrong tweet and your life could be changed forever. Your account could be private, you could post a Facebook comment in a closed group, or you could delete your post. Irrespective of the privacy level at which you make your mistake, it still has the chance to be retweeted, screenshot, reposted, even trend on twitter for all the world to see. For those who think that this is only limited to the mistakes you make online, the reality is that whether you say or do something offensive online or off, there is still the potential of being called out. While this is not inherently an unwanted consequence, the mob mentality of the internet can lead to the indictment of an accused person regardless of whether the crime they are accused of warrants this treatment.
Online movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, rely on the virality and mob culture of the internet. It spreads awareness and rallies together fellow activists and supporters to fight against a common cause. Online phenomena, from police brutality videos, posts of personal accounts of unjust treatment due to racial discrimination, and personal testimonies of sexual harassment against well-known figures, all serve to further incentivise and justify these social movements. The overwhelming amount of support for victims of these crimes not only makes these victims know they are not alone, but gives precedent for others to come forward with their own stories. However, the nature of the internet can skew the true severity of various transgressions and crimes, to all be punished with the same brute force regardless of their weight. For instance, the same level of online outrage can be directed at an off-handed comment, as that directed to an accused celebrity rapist. This does not accurately represent the severity of these incidents. One is offensive and rude, the other is a disgusting abuse of power and illegal.
Coming together with fellow twitter users to publicly shame someone online can feel righteous, powerful, exhilarating. Calling out perceived injustices, taking a stand can feel like you are dismantling hierarchies and standing up for justice – all from the comfort of your own home, behind a screen, armed only with a keyboard. For the most part, it is brilliant that anyone in the world only needs a Wi-Fi connection and access to an internet accessible device to have a voice and an impact on the world. Though, as a wise fictitious, Marvel uncle once said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Before you tweet something, post something or accuse someone online, stop and think about what consequences these actions will have. Should you rethink before posting a racially insensitive joke? Or before you tweet abuse and death threats at the perpetrator of a racially insensitive joke? Would you be educating someone on their behaviour? Or tearing them down to feel the superiority of a moral consensus in an echo chamber of fellow keyboard warriors? The power lies in your hands, your finger hovering over the send button.