Internet vigilantism

Internet vigilantism

Internet vigilantism is the phenomenon of vigilantic acts taken through the Internet (the communication network or its service providers) or carried out using applications (World Wide Web, e-mail) that depend on the Internet. The term encompasses vigilantism against scams, crimes, and non-Internet related behavior.

Some have suggested that the internet's lack of central control has prompted a tendency towards vigilante reactions against certain behaviors in the same way that they have prompted those behaviors to occur in the first place.[1]



The following are methods of Internet vigilantism that have been used or proposed for use:

Scam baiting

Scam baiting is the practice of feigning interest in a scam in order to manipulate the scammer behind it. The purpose of scam baiting might be to waste the scammers' time, embarrass him or her, cause them to reveal information which can be passed on to legal authorities in the hope that they will be prosecuted, get them to spend money, or simply to amuse the baiter.

Scam baiting emerged in response to e-mail based frauds such as the common Nigerian 419 scam. Many websites publish transcripts of correspondences between baiters and scammers, and also publish their "trophies" online, which include videos and images scam baiters have obtained from scammers.

Public shaming

The social networking tools of the World Wide Web have been used as a tool to easily and widely publicize instances of perceived anti-social behavior.

David Furlow, chairman of the Media, Privacy and Defamation Committee of the American Bar Association, has identified the potential privacy concerns raised by websites facilitating the distribution of information that is not part of the public record (documents filed with a government agency), and has said that such websites "just [give] a forum to people whose statements may not reflect truth."[2]

Notable examples

Kittens killed in vacuum bag

In December 2010, a video clip was posted on YouTube of a young man placing two kittens into a vacuum bag and suffocating them. Thousands of online protests and detectives claim that the man is male model Luka Magnotta and he has been hunted since. Even though there is no confirmed evidence linking him to the crime, he has had millions[citation needed] of death threats and had to leave the country and change his name. It was reported in news agencies around the world.[3]

YouTube cat abuse incident

In February 2009, an incident involving the posting on YouTube of a video clip in which a domestic cat, named Dusty, was beaten and tortured by a 14-year-old[4] boy calling himself "Timmy".[5] After about 30,000 viewings, this clip and the account were removed by YouTube as a violation of their terms of service.[4] Members of the 4chan message board investigated the incident, and by extrapolating from the poster's YouTube user name and the background in the video, they identified the abuser.[6] As a result of these complaints, the Comanche County Sheriff's Department investigated the incident,[7] and two suspects were arrested.[8] Dusty survived the abuse, and was placed in the care of a local veterinarian.[9] Both the assailant and the cameraman were charged with animal cruelty; as both are juveniles, punishment could include "psychological counseling, court monitoring until they turn 18, community service to provide restitution for treatment of animals, and/or placement in court custody."[10]

Dog Poop Girl

In 2005 in South Korea, bloggers targeted a woman who refused to clean up when her dog defecated on the floor of a Seoul subway car, labeling her "Dog Poop Girl" (rough translation of 'Korean: 개똥녀' into English). Another commuter had taken a photograph of the woman and her dog, and posted it on a popular Korean website.[11] Within days, she had been identified by internet vigilantes, and much of her personal information was exposed on the World Wide Web in an attempt to punish her for the offense. The story received mainstream attention when it was widely reported in South Korean media. The public humiliation led the woman to quit university, according to reports.[12]

The reaction by Korean citizens to the incident prompted several Korean newspapers to run editorials voicing concern over Internet vigilantism. One paper quoted Daniel Solove as saying that the woman was the victim of a "cyber-posse, tracking down norm violators and branding them with digital Scarlet Letters."[13] Another called it an "Internet witch-hunt," and went on to say that "the Internet is turning the whole society into a kangaroo court."[14]

The kitten killer of Hangzhou

In 2006, Wang Jue (王珏), a Chinese nurse appearing in an internet crush video stomping a kitten with her stilettos, gave herself up to authorities after bloggers and some print media started a campaign to trace back the recording. In the beginning, she was labeled as the kitten killer of Hangzhou, because it was believed she was from there; but some internauts recognized an island in northern Heilongjiang province.

Wang posted an apology on the Luobei city government official website. She said she was recently divorced and didn't know what to do with her life. The cameraman, a provincial TV employee, and she lost their jobs when internauts discovered their identities.[15][16]

Evan Guttman and the Stolen Sidekick

Other notable instances also include the case of Evan Guttman and his friend's stolen Sidekick II smartphone,[17][18] and the case of Jesse McPherson and his stolen Xbox 360, Powerbook, and TV.[19][20]

Zhang Ya & Sichuan Earthquake

In 2008, a girl called Zhang Ya (张雅) from Liaoning province, Northeast China, posted a 4 minute video of herself complaining about the amount of attention the Sichuan earthquake victims were receiving on television.[21] An intense response from Internet vigilantes[22] resulted in the girl's personal details[23] (even including her blood type) being made available online, as well as dozens of abusive video responses on Chinese websites and blogs.[24] The girl was taken into police custody for three days as protection from vigilante death threats.[25]

Stephen Fowler and Wife Swap

Stephen Fowler, an English expatriate and venture capitalist businessman, gained notoriety after his performance on ABC's Wife Swap (originally aired Friday January 30, 2009) when his wife exchanged positions in his family with a woman from Missouri for a two-week period. In response to her rule changes (standard procedure for the second week in the show) he insulted his guest and, in doing so, groups including the lower classes, soldiers, and the overweight. Several websites were made in protest against his behaviour, such as[26][27] After the show, and after watching the Wife Swap video, his wife, a professional life coach, reported that she had encouraged him to attend professional behaviour counselling. Businesses with only tangential connection to Fowler publicly disclaimed any association with him due to the negative publicity.[28] He resigned positions on the boards of two environmental charities to avoid attracting negative press.

Cyclist abuser Incident

In 2008, video of Patrick Pogan, a rookie police officer, body-slamming Christopher Long, a cyclist, surfaced on the Internet.[29] The altercation happened when members of Critical Mass conducted a bicycling advocacy event at Times Square.[30] The officer claimed the cyclist had veered into him, and so the biker was charged with assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

The charges against the cyclist were later dropped and Pogan was found to be guilty and was convicted of lying about the confrontation with the cyclist.[31]

Vigilante group targets mother

In 2009, a Facebook group was started, accusing a single mother for the death of a 13 month old child in her foster care. It was the mother's then common-law husband who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and the mother was not formally accused of any wrongdoing. However, the members of the group, such as the boy's biological mother, accuse her of knowing what was going on and doing nothing to stop it.[32]

Cat dumped in wheelie bin

In August 2010, a passer-by in Coventry, England later identified as Mary Bale by 4chan's members,[33] was caught on a private security camera stroking a cat, named Lola, then looking around and dumping her in a wheelie bin, where she was found by her owners 15 hours later. The owners posted the video on the Internet in a bid to identify the woman, who was later interviewed by the RSPCA about her conduct. Outrage was sparked among animal lovers, and a Facebook group called "Death to Mary Bale" was created, and later removed. Police said they were speaking to the 45-year-old about her personal safety.[34]

The woman, who at first downplayed her actions ("I thought it would be funny", "it's just a cat" and "didn't see what all the fuss was about")[35][36] eventually apologised "profusely for the upset and distress".[37]

Bale has been convicted under the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 with causing unnecessary suffering to a cat. An additional charge of failing to provide the cat with a suitable environment was dropped.[38] She was fined £250 and ordered to pay costs, totaling £1,436.04.

Cooks Source Incident

The food magazine Cooks Source printed an article by blogger Monica Gaudio without her permission in their November 2010 issue. Learning of the copyright violation, Gaudio emailed Judith Griggs, managing editor of Cooks Source Magazine, requesting that the magazine both apologize and also donate $130 to the Columbia School of Journalism as payment for using her work. Instead she received a very unapologetic letter stating that she (Griggs) herself should be thanked for making the piece better and that Gaudio should be glad that she didn't give someone else credit for writing the article. During the ensuing public outcry, online vigilantes took it upon themselves to avenge Gaudio. The Cooks Source Facebook page was flooded with thousands of contemptuous comments, forcing the magazine's staff to create new pages in an attempt to escape the protest and accuse 'hackers' of taking control of the original page. The magazine's website was stripped of all content by the staff and shut down a week later. [39]

Rabbit gate

In 2010 a case was publicized involving a young female, from Sichuan under the alias name Huang siu siu (黄小小), torturing and crushing rabbits. The group that financially sponsor the making of these videos was later revealed to be called "Crushfetish" who pay young girls to crush fish, insects, rabbits and other small animals. The girl was paid 100 yuan for each attempt, and she has been participating since 2007. Police said the group makes videos to sell overseas, and the company has allegedly made 279 animal abuse videos with a subscription fee.[40] Because of the concurrent hosting of the 2010 Asian Games, the animal videos were only limited to hosting just a few hours a day on some websites.[41]

Operation Dogfight

On February 9, 2011, a man supposedly located in Spain posted a video of himself torturing a Pomeranian dog. Within two days, Anonymous picked up on the incident, and began searching for the man.

After attention was brought locally by Spanish anons, a news website carried an article asking local people to remain calm, and confirming that the IP address had identified Badajoz as the location of the blogger who uploaded the video.

Distributed denial-of-service

A DDoS attack can be used to take down malicious websites, such as those being used for phishing or drive-by downloads. Thousands of people generate traffic to a website, flooding it such that it goes over quota or simply can't serve that many requests in a timely manner.

"Operation Payback"

In September 2010, the founder of Aiplex Software, Girish Kumar's admission of using distributed denial of service attacks against known and suspected copyright violators including some large-profile P2P sites resulted in the company's servers as well as those of the MPAA and RIAA suffering a DDoS attack themselves.[42] The attack was launched by Anonymous, coordinated through IRC; the participants have willingly given control over their LOIC to the irc, forming a voluntary botnet in order to overpower their targets.

As a result, Aiplex went offline for a full 24 hours while the MPAA's website was unreachable for 22 hours. The RIAA, the Gallant Macmillan and ACS Law firm, as well as AFACT and the Ministry of Sound has been targeted as well.

On 16 October 2010 Anonymous launched an attack against the UK Intellectual Property Office website. The attack commenced at 17:00 GMT, causing the site to go down swiftly. It was brought back online on October 22nd. The rationale for the attack was that the site was "Perpetuating the system that is allowing the exploitative usage of copyright and intellectual property."[43]


An American judge, serving in Montana, has a controversial role as a vigilante online terrorist-hunter, posing as militant anti-American Muslim radicals online, hoping to attract the eye of those with similar mindsets.[44]

Anti-pedophile internet vigilantism

Perverted Justice is a well-known example of an anti-pedophile organization that aims to expose and convict adults who, using email or web sites, solicit minors in order to commit child sexual abuse. They often collaborate with television crews such as those from Dateline. Some freely hosted blogs claim to expose real or potential child sex offenders.

Another initiative, Predator Hunter, headed by Wendell Kreuth, aims to track down and expose the pornography-related activities of alleged 'sexual predators'. In 2002, Kreuth disclosed details of his activities in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio.[45]

The Australian group MAKO has used the internet to warn families about sex offenders in their areas,[46] and to coordinate warnings about them.[47]

Members of the subculture "Anonymous" have also been credited for seeking out pedophiles and collaborating with law enforcement.[48][49] They describe themselves as a collection of individuals united by ideas. They left a mark with the arrest of Canadian pedophile, Chris Forcand. In early November of 2011, Anonymous launched Operation Darknet, which targeted websites that distribute and traffic child pornography. Anonymous reportedly leaked the personal details of more than 1,100 pedophiles to pastebin, and invited the FBI and Interpol to investigate the information for leads.

Members of the usenet group Alt.Hackers.Malicious have also been known to target and expose child predators, taking credit for dozens of arrests and convictions. They are most well-known for breaking into the NAMBLA servers on three separate occasions, downloading and disseminating the organizations membership information as well as emails which directly led to several arrests and convictions of child sexual abuse.

Identity theft activism

Organizations similar to vigilante action against pedophiles also target ID theft. Posing as ID thieves, they gather stolen personal information such as "dumps" (the raw encoded information contained on a payment or identification card's magnetic stripe, microchip or transponder), bank account numbers and login information, social security numbers, etc. They then pass this information on to the associated banks, to credit monitoring companies, or to law enforcement.

Other groups specialize in the removal of phishing websites, fake banks, and fraudulent online storefronts, a practice known as "site-killing". Artists Against 419 is a web site specializing in the removal of fake bank websites. Such groups often use tactics like DDoS attacks on the offending website, with the aim of drawing attention to the site by its hosting service or rapid consumption of the site's monthly bandwidth allowance. The Artists Against 419 always argued their tools were not a denial-of-service attack. At any rate they abandoned such tactics some time ago.[50]


Some companies engage in internet vigilantism for profit. One such example is MediaDefender, a company which used methods such as entrapment, P2P poisoning, and DDoS attacks.

Other political activism

Around the time of the 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay, which was marred by unrest in Tibet, Chinese hackers claim to have hacked the websites of CNN (accused of selective reporting on the 2008 Lhasa riots[51]) and Carrefour (a French shopping chain, allegedly supporting Tibetan independence),[52] while websites and forums gave tutorials on how to launch a DDoS attack specifically on the CNN website.[citation needed]

Real crime vigilantes

Some people form themselves into vigilante groups aiming (overtly) to "investigate" high profile cases, but in reality often their (covert) goal is to harass those people associated in some way with the crime, but against whom no successful case has been made in the courts. Recent cases include the death of JonBenét Ramsey in the USA and the Disappearance of Madeleine McCann in the UK. Operators of these sites may be counting on the limited purview of libel laws on the Internet in order to make allegations against people that might otherwise pursue defamation cases against them were the allegations published via other media.[citation needed]

Anti-software piracy Internet vigilantism

An example cited on the tech news site by Kevin Poulsen illustrates how two coders implemented and distributed a program that disguised itself as activation key generators and cracks for illegal software circulating on peer-to-peer file sharing sites. The duo researched software that was popular on these file sharing sites and tagged their code with their names. As soon as the software was executed, it displayed a large message, “Bad Pirate! So, you think you can steal from software companies do you? That's called theft, don't worry your secret is safe with me. Go thou and sin no more." The software then called back to a central server and logged the file name under which it was executed, amount of time the message was displayed on the downloader’s computer screen and their IP address. The information gathered was then re-posted onto a public website showing the downloader’s IP address and country of origin. The program also had a unique ID embedded into each downloaded copy of it for tracking purposes to keep track of how it traversed the different networks. [53]

Legislative framework

In 2002 in the United States, Representative Howard Berman proposed the Peer to Peer Piracy Prevention Act, which would have protected copyright holders from liability for taking measures to prevent the distribution, reproduction or display of their copyrighted works on peer-to-peer computer networks.[1] Berman stated that the legislation would have given copyright holders "both carrots and sticks" and said that "copyright owners should be free to use reasonable, limited self-help measures to thwart P2P piracy if they can do so without causing harm."[54] Smith College assistant professor James D. Miller acknowledged the threats to the privacy of legitimate Internet users that such actions would pose, but drew comparisons with other successful crime-fighting measures that can invade privacy, such as metal detectors at airports.[55]

See also


  1. ^ a b Giving Chase in Cyberspace PDF
  2. ^ The wide world of cyber snitching[dead link]
  3. ^ White, James (December 24, 2010). "Hunt for sick teenage kitten killer who suffocated two cats in 'snuff' video". Mail Online. 
  4. ^ a b "U.S. cat abuser punished by the internet". Russia Today. 02-16-2009. Retrieved 02-25-2009. 
  5. ^ Watson, Leon (02-16-2009). "Sicko beats cat in YouTube clip". The Sun. Retrieved 02-25-2009. 
  6. ^ O'Brien, Danny (02-20-2009). "Online users stick claws into torturer". The Irish Times. Retrieved 02-25-2009. 
  7. ^ "Comanche County teen films himself abusing cat, airs on YouTube". 02-15-2009. Retrieved 02-25-2009. 
  8. ^ "Update: Lawton teen films himself abusing cat, posts on YouTube". 02-16-2009. Retrieved 02-25-2009. 
  9. ^ Moore, Matthew (02-17-2009). "YouTube 'cat torturer' traced by web detectives". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 02-25-2009. 
  10. ^ "Update: Teens face two charges of animal cruelty after posting cat abuse on YouTube". 02-17-2009. Retrieved 02-25-2009. 
  11. ^ "Puppy poo girl". 2005-06-30. Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  12. ^ Krim, Jonathan (2005-07-07). "Subway Fracas Escalates Into Test Of the internet's Power to Shame". Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  13. ^ Updated July.8,2005 17:59 KST (2005-07-08). "Digital Chosunilbo (English Edition) : Daily News in English About Korea". Archived from the original on June 4, 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  14. ^ "AsiaMedia :: Internet Witch-hunts". Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  15. ^ "High-heeled kitten killer apologizes". China Daily. 2006-03-16. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  16. ^ "The meow murderess brought to heel". Daily News and Analysis. 2006-03-18. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  17. ^ Confessore, Nicholas (2006-06-21). "Tale of a Lost Cellphone, and Untold Static". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  18. ^ "The internet mob builds a worldwide web of punishment - Times Online". London: 2006-06-25. Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  19. ^ Norris, Michele (2008-04-02). "Robbery Victim Uses Internet to Track Xbox Thief". NPR. Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  20. ^ Moses, Asher (2008-03-26). "Cyber vigilantes foil gadget thief - web - Technology". Melbourne: Retrieved 2009-03-03. [dead link]
  21. ^ Lin, Qiu (2008-05-23). "Where angles and devils meet -- China's Internet in quake aftermath". Xinhua News Agency. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  22. ^ 关于辽宁女张雅辱骂灾区人民的违法行为讨论
  23. ^ 有个姑娘名叫张雅
  24. ^ 我帮你找到了张雅的资料,看看满意吗?
  25. ^ 张雅 辽宁女 沈阳公安局证实:张雅被抓
  26. ^ "Husbands Behaving Badly - Yahoo! TV Blog". Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  27. ^ Thomas, Owen (2009-02-07). "Jerks: 'Wife Swap' Star Apologises for Having Worst Husband in World". Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  28. ^ "The Insider: TV viewers stuff wrong inbox over 'Wife Swap'". 2009-02-08. Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  29. ^ Officer Patrick Pogan. 2008-07-30. Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  30. ^ Barron, James (2008-07-29). "Officer Investigated in Toppling of Cyclist". Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  31. ^ Eligon, John (2010-04-29). "Ex-Officer Convicted of Lying About Confrontation With Cyclist". Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  32. ^ Hanon, Andrew (2009-03-13). "Internet vigilante group torments mother". Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  33. ^ "How 4chan Brought the Evil British Cat Bin Woman to Justice". Gawker. 2010-08-26. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  34. ^ "Woman who dumped cat in wheelie bin 'profoundly sorry'". BBC News. 2010-08-25. Retrieved 2010-08-29. 
  35. ^ "Woman who binned cat: It was funny". The New Zealand Herald. 2010-08-26. Retrieved 2010-08-29. 
  36. ^ Meikle, James (2010-08-25). "Woman who dumped Lola the cat in wheelie bin defends her actions". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-08-29. 
  37. ^ Sheridan, Michael (2010-08-25). "Mary Bale, caught on video throwing cat into trash bin, says 'sorry' after receiving death threats". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2010-08-29. 
  38. ^ "Cat bin dumping woman fined for cruelty offence". BBC News. 2010-10-19. Retrieved 2010-10-19. 
  39. ^ Lynch, Rene (4 November 2010). "Cooks Source magazine vs. the Web". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 November 2010. 
  40. ^ "" Rabbit-crushing woman confesses. Retrieved on 2010-12-11.
  41. ^ "" Rabbit case. Retrieved on 2010-12-11.
  42. ^ "DDoS attack against the MPAA and RIAA servers (Hungarian)". 2010-09-22. Retrieved 2010-09-30. 
  43. ^ "Anonymous Takes Out UK Intellectual Property Office Website". TorrentFreak. 
  44. ^
  45. ^ Chasing online predators, April 15, 2002, retrieved May 21, 2007
  46. ^ Kim Wheatley (2007-02-22). "Public warned about abuser". The Advertiser. 
  47. ^
  48. ^ Constable George Schuurman, Public Information, for Detective Constable Janelle Blackadar, Sex Crimes Unit (2007-12-06). "Man facing six charges in Child Exploitation investigation, Photograph released, Chris Forcand, 53" (PDF). News Release (Toronto Police Service). Archived from the original on February 27, 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  49. ^ Jonathan Jenkins (2007-12-07). "Man trolled the web for girls: cops". CANOE (Toronto Sun). Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  50. ^
  51. ^ "Anti-CNN website". Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  52. ^ SBS Dateline, 6 Aug 2008 [1] video link
  53. ^
  54. ^ "The Truth About The Peer To Peer Piracy Prevention Act". 2002-10-01. Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  55. ^ "Let Hollywood Hack". Retrieved 2009-03-03. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Internet privacy — involves the right or mandate of personal privacy concerning the storing, repurposing, providing to third parties, and displaying of information pertaining to oneself via the Internet. Privacy can entail both Personally Identifying Information… …   Wikipedia

  • Scientology and the Internet — Clockwise from above: 1) Protest by an Internet group calling itself Anonymous against the practices and tax status of the Church of Scientology, 2) Screenshot of error message when attempting to load www.scientology.o …   Wikipedia

  • Troll (Internet) — Do not feed the trolls and its abbreviation DNFTT redirect here. For the Wikimedia essay, see What is a troll? …   Wikipedia

  • Vigilante — A vigilante is a person who ignores due process of law and enacts their own form of justice in response to a perception of insufficient response by the authorities. Several groups and individuals have been labeled as vigilantes by various… …   Wikipedia

  • Anonymous (group) — Anonymous A flag conveying symbolism associated with Anonymous. The imagery of the suit without a head represents leaderless orga …   Wikipedia

  • Perverted-Justice — Front page of the Perverted Justice website, 2007, with new logo and log of successful convictions Founded 2002 …   Wikipedia

  • Scam baiting — Main article: Internet vigilantism Scam baiting is a form of Internet vigilantism, where the vigilante poses as a potential victim to the scammer in order to waste their time and resources, gather information that will be of use to authorities,… …   Wikipedia

  • Operation AntiSec — An image that Anonymous has used to represent the operation; it contains elements of symbols used to represent both Anonymous and LulzSec. Not to be confused with Antisec Movement. Operation Anti Security, also referred to as Operation AntiSec or …   Wikipedia

  • Chinese nationalism — For the political party, see Chinese Nationalist Party. Chinese nationalism (simplified Chinese: 中国民族主义; traditional Chinese: 中國民族主義; pinyin: Zhōngguó mínzúzhǔyì), sometimes synonymous with Chinese patriotism (simplified Chinese: 爱国主义;… …   Wikipedia

  • Operation Iran — (OpIran) is an ongoing Freedom Operation run by members of the hacktivist collective known as Anonymous. Contents 1 Background 2 Methods 3 Participants 4 Actions …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.