When we think about social media, we think about the ease of communicating and interacting with families and friends. It’s also becoming a useful tool to receive and share information. However social media also has a negative side to it.
Becoming a worrying problem in Singapore, online vigilantes are taking matters of the law into their own hands. When stories about a person breaking a society’s moral values, these online vigilantes make it their mission to restore justice without confirming the truth in the story.
This is where social media becomes a dangerous tool that can cause unrepairable damage. Without proper regulation in how users use it for interaction, it can also be a tool to commit crime.
In a recent case of online vigilantism, a driver’s name was tainted for reportedly refusing to pay the full cost of petrol wrongly pumped into his BMW at a Caltex petrol pump in Tampines.
He asked to fill only S$10 (RM29.50) worth of petrol, but the pump attendant thought he wanted a full tank and so pumped S$135 (RM400) worth of fuel.
The attendant then told the cashier that he would bear the rest of the bill, according to a Facebook post in the matter. Caltex Singapore then issued a statement saying that the attendant “did not bear any financial obligation” for the incident.
By the time police recorded it as a misunderstanding, the damage was done.
Online vigilantes had dug up details about the driver at various sites and exposed his personal details to the public. These include his phone number, LinkedIn profile, his parking spots, road tax details, the company he worked at and even his private family photos were leaked online.
Out of fear and harassments he received, the driver has since lodged a police report and is currently on leave from work.
These real-world ramifications of online witch hunts have costed victims their jobs. Some have also reported to have received death threats and left the country to escape merciless prosecutions.
According to observers, the motives for online vigilantism is either to feel satisfaction of helping others or to show how smart they are, but premature judgements give the accused little opportunity to tell their side of the story.
When private information is made public and shared online, they cannot be retracted. This raises an issue of ethics and integrity.
Experts urge netizens and keyboard warriors to report to authorities rather than taking matters into their own hands because the criminal justice system exists for a reason.