ArticlePDF Available

Internet Vigilantism: Attitudes and Experiences of University Students Toward Cyber Crowdsourcing in Hong Kong

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

With the development of the Internet, Internet vigilantism (netilantism) has emerged as a new phenomenon in recent years. Although there are several qualitative studies explaining netilantism, there is little empirical research on public perceptions of netilantism. This article aims to outline Hong Kong university students' general perception of netilantism and investigate the differences between different roles in netilantism. By using empowerment theory as the theoretical framework, we will investigate whether Internet vigilantes (netilantes) (a) perceive the criminal justice system as effective, (b) possess high levels of self-efficacy in the cyber world, and (c) tend to believe netilantism can achieve social justice. Findings support the proposition that human flesh search engine is an empowerment tool for the netilante enabling him or her to achieve his goal of social justice. Different roles in netilantism (i.e., bystander, netilante, victim, and none of the above roles) have different perceptions of netilantism and the criminal justice system. The results will be explained by studying two representative cases of netilantism-the "Government Official Molestation" case and the "Cat Abuse in Shun Tin Village" case from China and Hong Kong, respectively.
Content may be subject to copyright.
International Journal of
Offender Therapy and
Comparative Criminology
1 –21
© The Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permissions:
sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI: 10.1177/0306624X16639037
ijo.sagepub.com
Article
Internet Vigilantism:
Attitudes and Experiences
of University Students
Toward Cyber Crowdsourcing
in Hong Kong
Lennon Y. C. Chang1 and Ryan Poon2
Abstract
With the development of the Internet, Internet vigilantism (netilantism) has emerged
as a new phenomenon in recent years. Although there are several qualitative studies
explaining netilantism, there is little empirical research on public perceptions of
netilantism. This article aims to outline Hong Kong university students’ general
perception of netilantism and investigate the differences between different roles in
netilantism. By using empowerment theory as the theoretical framework, we will
investigate whether Internet vigilantes (netilantes) (a) perceive the criminal justice
system as effective, (b) possess high levels of self-efficacy in the cyber world, and (c)
tend to believe netilantism can achieve social justice. Findings support the proposition
that human flesh search engine is an empowerment tool for the netilante enabling
him or her to achieve his goal of social justice. Different roles in netilantism (i.e.,
bystander, netilante, victim, and none of the above roles) have different perceptions
of netilantism and the criminal justice system. The results will be explained by studying
two representative cases of netilantism—the “Government Official Molestation”
case and the “Cat Abuse in Shun Tin Village” case from China and Hong Kong,
respectively.
Keywords
Internet vigilantism (Netilantism), empowerment, cyber crowdsourcing, online citizen
policing, human flesh search
1School of Social Sciences, Monash University, Clayton VIC, Australia
2City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR
Corresponding Author:
Lennon Y. C. Chang, Monash University, Clayton VIC 3800, Australia.
Email: lennon.chang@monash.edu
639037IJOXXX10.1177/0306624X16639037International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative CriminologyChang and Poon
research-article2016
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
2 International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
Introduction
The information technology industry has developed at a rapid rate over the past few
decades, the world has entered into a digital age and the Internet has become one of the
most powerful and well-received technological tools used by individuals. With wide-
spread access to the Internet, people from all walks of life have a relatively equal
opportunity to speak out against inequality and injustice (Bruns, 2008). For example,
the proportion of the world’s Internet users in developing countries has increased rap-
idly from 44% of all users in 2006 to 62% in 2011 (International Telecommunication
Union [ITU], 2011).
The substantial increase in Internet coverage has facilitated the growth of interac-
tive forums that allow the public, including those from lower socio-economic groups,
to expose problems and corruption in society (Zhu, Shang, & Hu, 2009). It has enabled
revolutionary change to the practice and concept of vigilantism, shifting the platform
of vigilante activities from the real world to the cyber world. Physical barriers and
social status are removed in the cyber world.
For example, a video titled “Government Official Molesation” was disseminated
over the Internet in China in 2008. The video showed a confrontation between the
parents of an 11-year-old girl and a mayor-rank official accused of molesting the girl.
In the video, the man said, “I am a government official and have the same rank as a
city mayor. There is no way you can sue me!” The government official’s haughty
statement outraged netizens who began connecting and communicating with one
another to reveal personal and other information about the official. Two days later,
Jiaxiang Lin, Deputy Director-General and Party Secretary of Shenzhen Maritime
Affairs Bureau (SMAB) under the Ministry of Transport (MOT), was singled out as
the perpetrator. In the meantime, personal information about Lin, such as his birth-
place, mobile phone numbers, and alma mater were disclosed by the eager netizens
over the Internet. As a result, MOT announced that Lin had been removed from all
administrative responsibilities, party duties, and required to make a public apology
for his misbehavior (Fan, 2008).
Another sensational case “Cat Abuse in Shun Tin Village” attracted significant pub-
lic attention in Hong Kong. The case involved five teenagers who allegedly repeatedly
kicked a cat. The cat sustained severe injuries including organ failure and was subse-
quently euthanized. When this incident was reported in the media, the public held an
Internet trial and tracked down the alleged abusers. Within a short period of time, five
teenagers were identified and their personal information was posted on the Internet.
Thousands of criticisms and insulting messages directed at the abusers were posted on
the Internet. The teenagers claimed they were innocent and accused netizens of mak-
ing mistakes in their online searching. They asked the police to investigate in a bid to
establish their innocence. When the teenagers were eventually found to be innocent,
some netizens suspected that false information was uploaded by someone who knew
the teenagers and intended to do them harm (Jou & Chang, 2012).
The above cases are illustrative of the new phenomenon of cyber crowdsourcing,
which is known as renrou sousou in Chinese, literally “human flesh search” (HFS). It
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Chang and Poon 3
refers to the direct involvement of netizens collectively tracking down and publishing
on the Internet information that might help to solve a crime or the personal information
of someone who has engaged in corrupt practices or immoral behaviors, often with the
aim of shaming and punishing them to reinstate legal or moral justice (R. Brown,
1975; Chang & Leung, 2015; Herold, 2011; Ong, 2012). It has also been argued that
netizens sometimes do it just for fun or to fulfill their curiosity (Hatton, 2014).
Based on its nature, cyber crowdsourcing can be referred as Internet vigilantism
(netilantism hereafter). Vigilantes act as the informal community guards to offset the
inadequacy of the formal justice system (Burrows, 1976). People believe that police
authorities will not or are not able to handle certain cases and thus seek to solve these
on their own to educate the rule-breakers who have brought shame to the whole of
society. If this is the case, rather than acting for fun, the cyber crowdsourcer (Internet
vigilantes) might have some beliefs or characteristics such as (a) a perception that the
formal justice system is not effective and, therefore, aims to achieve social justice by
remedying the flaws in the system; (b) a belief in the ability to make society better by
acting as an informal guard of society; and (c) use of the Internet and social network-
ing platform as a new means to achieve social justice and punish deviants who are not
captured by the formal justice system.
There is still a limited understanding on the characteristics of netizens participating
in cyber crowdsourcing/netilantism. Are they participating in cyber crowdsourcing
just for fun? Or do those who contribute to cyber crowdsourcing have other character-
istics? Is it a random practice for all netizens? Are cyber crowdsourcers empowered by
the Internet and believe that HFS can help them achieve social justice? These ques-
tions have not been addressed in the research to date and need to be explored.
Existing research focusing on analyzing the impact of netilantism on society is
mainly qualitative based. Up until now, there has been no study on roles (i.e., bystander,
netilante, victim, and none of the above roles) in netilantism. This article aims to fill
this research gap. It will use quantitative methods to examine Hong Kong university
students’ general perception toward netilantism and investigate the differences
between different roles in netilantism. By using empowerment theory as the theoreti-
cal framework, we will investigate whether Internet vigilantes (netilantes) (a) perceive
the criminal justice system as ineffective, (b) possess a high level of self-efficacy in
the cyber world, and (c) tend to believe netilantism can serve social justice.
Literature Review
Rise of Vigilantism
The rise of vigilantism can be studied by investigating different types of social control.
Social control is a process of regulating individuals to conform to the rules given by a
society. There are two types of social control, formal and informal, based on the sever-
ity of the deviance and the type of violation (Pfohl, 1985). It is important to note that
any act which is not commonly accepted by society, no matter whether it has violated
norms or laws, is regarded as a deviance. Formal social control refers to rules (laws)
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
4 International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
carried out by authorized agencies such as the government and police. The rules are
formalized as laws to control behavior and are targeted at more severe deviances such
as murder and robbery (Black, 1984). Informal social control, however, is another set
of rules (norms) set by the entire society for determining appropriate values, beliefs,
attitudes, behaviors, and informing the ways people should act in society. It is targeted
at less severe deviances such as cutting in lines (queue jumping) and shouting in
church (Straker, 2008).
Based on the differences between formal and informal social control, vigilantism is
a reaction to those deviances that are seen as severe enough to be incorporated in the
formal justice system but are not being adequately addressed by authorized agencies
(Burrows, 1976). Flaws and injustice in the formal justice system are present in every
society. Vigilantes act as the informal community guards to offset the inadequacy of
the formal justice system (Burrows, 1976). They serve social justice by using informal
means to punish deviants ignored by the formal system.
The intentions of people who carry out vigilantism can be categorized into two
types: first, vigilantes who aim to serve social justice by remedying a structural flaw
in society. For example, Lee and Seekings (2002) found that citizens in South Africa
believe vigilantes more than local police as the country is perceived as relatively cor-
rupt. Vigilantism is initiated when citizens believe alternative forms of social control
are required to fight corruption (Liu, 2009). Second, vigilantes may not aim to achieve
justice but use vigilantism as a means to measure their own computer skills and knowl-
edge (Hsu & Chiu, 2004). In other words, vigilantes may be conducting Internet vigi-
lantism merely to satisfy their personal needs. These personal needs include curiosity,
entertainment, personal animosity, conforming others, and self-actualization (Y. L. Li,
2008, Long & Tang, 2012; P. Xiao, 2011).
Netlantism: A New Trend in Vigilantism
The Internet might provide vigilantism with a new means to achieve social justice and
punish deviants who are not captured by the formal justice system. This has been
called “netilantism (Internet vigilantism),” “online vigilantism,” or “digilantism..”
Although some Chinese researchers claim it is an online phenomenon unique to the
Greater China region (J. W. Cheng & Xue, 2011), similar cases have emerged in the
West in recent years, for example, the identification of suspects responsible for the
Boston marathon bombings (Wadhwa, 2013) or actions taken by Anonymous against
the 2015 terrorist attack in Paris (Webb, 2015).
The media has always played a large role in organizing social justice movements
and fostering social change. The emergence of the Internet alongside traditional media
has brought an unprecedented revolution to the social justice movement (Castells,
2008). The Internet allows a substantial amount of information to flow to many people
simultaneously. Power, strength, and freedom, which can be hard to achieve in the real
world, are the motivators for netizens to participate in netilantism. The excitement in
changing identity in cyber world, where netizens (Internet citizens) can register numer-
ous accounts without letting others know their real identity, is a reason for netilantism.
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Chang and Poon 5
However, netizens may become curious about an anonymous identity and seek to
reveal that identity through netilantism (Lu, 2012).
This has contributed to the emergence of netilantism and provided a fertile ground
for it to grow (Kling, 2000). With a growing number of people using various social
networking sites, updating their status, organizing events, and sharing photos, social
media have become an essential part of daily life for many netizens. Social networking
sites are like an online information bank retaining sensitive and personal data of the
uploaders (Gross & Acquisti, 2005). The ability of web search engines to help people
access most online information has significantly contributed to the development of
netilantism. It enriches the information gathered by netilantes to further punish social
wrongdoers by holding a virtual Internet trial against them (Zook & Graham, 2007).
Online platforms enable and facilitate vigilantism. The lack of physical barriers on the
Internet enables individuals concerned about social issues and justice to group quickly
and share their concerns and information. Incidents, whether significant or small, can
be easily disseminated through video sharing. Without spatial and temporal limita-
tions, the Internet is the prevalent manifestation of vigilantism today.
Netilantism may be regarded as a new type of citizen policing. Academics and
practitioners agree that traditional police powers are no longer sufficient to investigate
cybercrime and manage online security (Broadhurst & Chang, 2013; Chang, 2012),
and thus establishing a distributed cyber-policing or wikified cybercrime investigation
model is a matter of urgency (Brenner, 2007; Chang, 2013). However, as ordinary
members of the public are not formally trained in policing methods including the col-
lection of evidence and protection of the rights of citizens, netilantism could both
jeopardise and facilitate social justice. The role of vigilante is vague. Although vigi-
lantism is generally defined as “serving social justice,” the dark side of netilantism
should not be ignored. Daniel Solove, professor of law at George Washington
University, criticised netilantism arguing it may not maintain social control but destroy
it and make things more anarchic because activity in the cyber world is too hard to
regulate and stop once it has been initiated (Zetter, 2007). The above argument is fur-
ther supported by Cho and Kim (2012), who found that users with anonymous Internet
users are more likely to have uninhibited and violent behaviors than those who under-
went the enhanced identification process on the Internet. As the true identity of neti-
zens is masked in the cyber world, their behaviors then are not restricted by awareness
of their real identity. With netilantism, there can be a loss control of situation as there
are no rules governing the process. People who oppose netilantism claim the random-
ness and unstructured nature of vigilantism may punish innocent people (Ruan, 2011).
Enhancement of Self-Efficacy Through New Media Empowerment
As pointed out by Barthel and Harrison (2009), Web 2.0 “now enables vastly more
users to experiment with a wider and seemingly more varied range of collaborative
creative activities” (p. 174). Barak, Nissim, and Suler (2008) stated that the unique
factors of the Internet such as anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic
introjection, and neutralizing of status have created an online disinhibition effect,
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
6 International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
which enables Internet users to be psychologically empowered. Online disinhibition
is a phenomenon in which netizens feel less restrained and are more willing to express
themselves in the cyber world. For instance, people are more likely to express nega-
tive emotions, harsh criticism, anger, hatred, and threats in the cyber world than the
real world (Suler, 2004). Jordan (1999) explained that at the personal level, people’s
degree of self-efficacy is empowered by the Internet due to the supporting systems in
the virtual world. With the fast growing popularity of social networking sites (e.g.,
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Weibo, Golden), information between multiple digital
platforms can be transmitted at an enormously quick pace allowing the promotion
and enhancement of collective intelligence. As a result, new ideologies such as
achieving social justice by online collaborative identity discovery can be easily culti-
vated (Jenkins, 2006).
Not all netizens become netilantes. Netilantism might be seen as an empowerment
process. Netilantes are going through an empowerment process by the Internet to fight
against social injustice. According to Rappaport (1987), empowerment is a process by
which people, organizations, and communities gain mastery over their lives. A more
thorough definition proposed by Perkins and Zimmerman (1995) stated that empower-
ment is a theoretical model for understanding the process and consequence of efforts
to exert control and influence over decisions that affect one’s life, organizational func-
tioning, and the quality of community. Zimmerman (2000) further elaborates this
statement by examining the construct of empowerment at individual (psychological),
organizational, and community levels of analysis. Individual level analysis refers to
psychological empowerment (PE), and it will be employed as the theoretical frame-
work in this article.
Psychological empowerment is the combination of personal beliefs of control (per-
ceived control) and involvement in community activities (exert control; Zimmerman,
2000). Perceived control refers to one’s self-efficacy, which is an individual’s percep-
tion of how well he can perform to achieve a goal (Bandura, 1986). Exert control
refers to citizen participation, which is a way to exercise a sense of competency and
control. Stone and Levine (1985) have compared activist (i.e., a citizen who has greater
participation in the community) and non-activist and found that activists have greater
perceived competence and control than non-activists. In other words, PE is a process
by which people achieve their goal (perceived control) through participation in com-
munity activities (exert control). Citizens who have engaged in community activities
have a higher perceived competence and control and a decrease in social alienation
(Zimmerman, 2000).
This theoretical model may be able to be used as an explanation of netilantism.
Compared with other roles in netilantism, such as victims and bystanders, netilantes
who perform netilantism should have a stronger belief that there are structural flaws
(e.g., in the criminal justice system) in society (R. Brown, 1975). Their goal is to
remedy the flaws by punishing wrongdoers who are ignored by the criminal justice
system. Based on PE, these netilantes should also possess a higher level of self-effi-
cacy (perceived control) in achieving their goal compared with other roles. Their high
level of self-efficacy can be attributed to advanced technologies such as the Internet,
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Chang and Poon 7
which is the perfect empowerment tool for them to achieve their goal (exert control
through online participation). Online support groups are one of the most effective
ways to achieve personal empowerment, which empowers the users to gain a sense of
personal competence, feelings of self-determination, and perceptions of social
engagement (Dickerson, 1998).
Current Research on Netilantism
Most current research on netilantism has had a computer science or legal analysis
focus. Researchers have examined the network expanding process and the evolution of
the online community (Banks, Carson, Nelson, & Nicol, 2005) and developed epi-
demic models to quantitatively describe the capability of netilantism (L. Cheng,
Zhang, & Wang, 2012). Some studies have proposed technological solutions to regu-
late netilantism (Chen, 2008; Xu & Ji, 2008), for example, recommending regulating
netilantism by incorporating the real name system. When the real identity of the neti-
zen is required to be verified before they can post a message, they will be more careful
about the veracity of the information they intend to post. In addition, a systemic moral
standard on Internet use can provide a reference to netizens when participating in
netilantism.
Legal studies have considered whether netilantism can be regarded as legitimate if
it balances “the public’s right to know” and the “individual’s right to privacy” (Bu,
2008). Bu (2008) stated that HFS is a powerful punishing tool to deter potential devi-
ants who violate rules. However, “over-justice” of netilantism can develop into a tyr-
anny when the victims’ privacy is exploited in an incontrollable manner with no
chance for self-defense. Netilantism can contribute to public surveillance and enhance
democracy. These functions can be achieved only when the netilantes clearly realize
their rights and obligations (D. D. Li, 2009; Ruan, 2011). Zetter (2007) argues that
netilantism does not maintain social control but makes things more anarchic because
activity in the cyber world is too hard to regulate and stop once it has been initiated.
Netilantism can also become a business opportunity with many netizens drawn to the
forum, and thus increasing advertising revenue (Si, 2010). With the aim of creating a
more popular post to increase advertising revenue, some forums use money to attract
people to perform vigilantism. Personal information such as blood type, home address,
and living habits may be transferred to illegal organizations and be used in organized
crime (Hunton, 2009).
With no effective system to control the netilante’s behavior, self-discipline is the
only way to generate a positive outcome from netilantism. In other words, netilantes
should be reminded that their responsibility is to facilitate social justice, rather than to
unmask a person until he is totally naked in public. Education will be one of the ways
to remind netilantes of their responsibility. Ye and Li (2009) suggest the government
should educate the public about the ethical issues involved. For example, netilantes
should be made aware that revealing private information is not the only means to
achieve social justice, and it can result in psychological harm and have other conse-
quences for the victims.
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
8 International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
Some research has addressed the potential reason why netizens become cyber
crowdsources/netilantes, but this is mainly qualitative research without an empirical or
theoretical basis. Holt and Klinger (2012) used empirical data to examine willingness
of U.S. college students to attack critical infrastructure online and offline. Nonetheless,
there is still limited empirical research testing the characteristics of netilantes and
whether they hold stronger attitudes toward social justice than victims, bystanders, and
non-participants, and whether HFS engine is an empowering tool for them to achieve
social justice.
The Present Study
University students in Hong Kong were asked to participate in this study. Valid data
were collected from 295 students. Participants were required to complete a question-
naire to identify their role(s) in netilantism and measure their perception of the crimi-
nal justice system, perception of the functions of netilantism and their level of
self-efficacy in the cyber world. Because there is no current research into the differ-
ence between the various roles in netilantism nor into whether empowerment theory
can be used to explain netilantism, this research aims to examine how different roles
in netilantism correlate with the participants’ (a) perception of the effectiveness of the
criminal justice system, (b) level of self-efficacy in the cyber world, and (c) perception
of the function of netilantism (whether it can serve social justice).
Method
Research Design and Procedures
Because the research topic includes some possibly sensitive questions (e.g., the vic-
tim’s experiences with netilantism), there was a risk that participants would not be
willing to answer those questions in a face-to-face interview. Distributing a question-
naire allowed greater anonymity because there was no interviewer, and the partici-
pant’s identity did not need to be provided (Frankfort-Nachmias, 1997). The
questionnaire was self-administered. It was divided into seven parts. Part A collected
background information on the participant. Parts B, C, and D measured the partici-
pant’s perceptions of the cyber world, netilantism, and the criminal justice system in
Hong Kong, respectively. Parts E, F, and G identified the participant’s role and corre-
sponding experiences in netilantism. Those who did not indicate a specific role were
required to skip the respective parts.
The study was conducted between January and May in 2014. A non-probability and
convenience sampling was used in this research. According to the International
Telecommunication Union (ITU), the world’s population of Internet users was 2.5 bil-
lion in 2011 with almost 50% of them below the age of 25. This reveals the importance
of youth participation in the development of the Internet. Accordingly, this study tar-
geted university students aged between 18 and 25 (undergraduate and master’s pro-
gramme students). The surveys were distributed through universities and social
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Chang and Poon 9
networking platforms. In total, 350 surveys were distributed in City University of
Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and Facebook. Altogether, 295
valid cases were collected and usable for analysis. The response rate was 84.3% with
53.2% of respondents male and 46.8% of respondents female. The minimum age was
18 while the maximum age was 25. The mean age was 22 years (SD = 1.57 years). A
pilot test with 30 university students (not from the 295 participants) was conducted to
detect possible flaws in measurement procedures and identify unclear and ambiguous
items in the questionnaire and the non-verbal behavior of participants, which may
reflect discomfort regarding the content of the questionnaire.
Variables and Measures
Dependent variables
General perceptions of netilantism. Participants were asked to identify from a list one
or more characteristics of netilantism: privacy disclosure, insulting the target, making
fun of the target, general discussion, hacking, and achieving justice and fairness. Par-
ticipants were able to choose more than one option.
Effectiveness of the criminal justice system in Hong Kong. Participants were asked to
state whether they thought the criminal justice system is effective in delivering justice,
exhibits a high degree of fairness, is biased in favor of people from a higher socio-
economic background, ignores certain deviances, has a high level of integrity, does
not need to be reformed, has adequately flexible criminal investigation methods, and
handles minor crime (eight items; α = .89). All the items were measured on a 5-point
Likert-type scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree). Reverse coding was
applied to the questions with different direction. All in all, higher mean scores indicate
that the participant perceives the criminal justice system as more effective.
Level of self-efficacy in the cyber world. Self-efficacy in the cyber world was measured
by asking the participants whether they think they have achievements in the cyber
world, feel successful and competitive in the cyber world, and have self-confidence
in the cyber world (four items; α = .92). They were measured on a 5-point Likert-type
scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree). Participants with a higher mean score
have a higher level of self-efficacy in the cyber world.
Netilantism as a tool to achieve social justice. Participants were asked whether they
believe netilantism is an effective way to achieve social justice, can compensate for
the inadequacy of the current legal system, is blind to socio-economic status, exhib-
its a higher level of fairness than the formal court system, deters public deviances
effectively, undertakes public surveillance, and whether the victims in netilanstism
deserve to be blamed (seven items; α = .90). All the above items were measured on
a 4-point Likert-type scale (1 = strongly disagree, 4 = strongly agree). Participants
who perceived netilantism as achieving social justice outcomes will have a higher
mean score.
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
10 International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
Independent variable
Role(s) in netilantism. The following conceptual definitions of the roles in netilan-
tism were developed: Bystander refers to those who did not undertake any actions in
netilantism and merely observed the process. Netilante refers to people who undertook
a range of actions on a specific target on the Internet from lenient (e.g., leaving a mali-
cious comment) to severe (e.g., infringing the target’s privacy). Victims refer to those
who committed unlawful or norm-breaking behaviors and were targeted by other neti-
zens and who then suffered a range of abuse and harmful actions. Netizens with none
of the roles refer to people who have never been involved in netilantism.
Three yes or no questions “Have you ever been an internet vigilante?” “Have you
ever been a victim of internet vigilantism?” and “Have you ever been a bystander in
internet vigilantism?” were asked to identify the roles of the participants in netilan-
tism. Eight possible roles can be categorized as listed in Table 1.
However, as there were no participants who had the triple roles of “bystander,
netilante, and victim” or the double roles of “Netilante and victim” in our sample,
the number of roles is reduced from eight to four: “the bystander,” “the victim,”
“the netilante,” and “none of the roles.” For those participants with double roles
such as “bystander and netilante” or “bystander and victim,” they were categorized
simply as “netilante” or “victim,” respectively. This arrangement was based on the
assumption that there is little difference between “bystander and netilante” and
“netilante.” It is reasonable that most netilantes will also be bystanders. For exam-
ple, a netilante posting private information about a target in the online forum will
be interested in other netizen’s responses and comments, which means they share
the characteristics of “bystander.” The same rationale was applied to “bystander
and victim.”
Statistical Analysis
Statistical analysis was conducted with IBM SPSS, version 20. As the main purpose of
this research was to find out whether, compared with roles of victims, bystanders, and
non-participants, internet vigilantes have a higher level of social justice, think the
criminal justice system is less ineffective, and believe that netilantism can empower
them to realize justice, the use of one-way ANOVA, rather than multiple regression,
Table 1. Roles of Participants in Netilantism.
Single role Doubles roles Triple role None of the roles
1. “Bystander” 4. “Bystander and
victim”
7. “Bystander,
netilante,
and victim”
8. “Never involve
in netilantism”
2. “Netilante” 5. “Bystander and
Netilante”
3. “Victim” 6. “Netilante and
victim”
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Chang and Poon 11
was considered sufficient and suitable to compare the role differences in netilantism.
An alpha level of .05 was used as the threshold of significance.
Based on empowerment theory and discussion in the literature review, the research
hypotheses were as follows:
Hypothesis 1: A netilante, more than other roles, perceives the criminal justice
system as ineffective.
Hypothesis 2: Compared with other roles, a netilante has a higher level of self-
efficacy in the cyber world.
Hypothesis 3: A netilante is more likely than other roles to believe that netilantism
can achieve social justice.
Results
Role Distribution of the Sample
Table 2 describes the role distribution in netilantism of the participants in this study
with 48.5%, 23.4%, 11.5%, and 16.6% identified as “bystander,” “netilante,” “victim,”
and “none of the roles,” respectively. There were no participants with the double roles
of “netilante and victim” or the triple roles of “bystander, netilante, and victim.”
General Perception of Netilantism
Table 3 shows that most of the participants perceived netilantism as a form of privacy
disclosure (81%) and a way to insult the target (76%), followed by away to make fun of
the target (63%) and a forum for general discussion (59%). Less than half of the partici-
pants perceived it as hacking (41%) and a way to achieve justice and fairness (43%).
In addition, Table 3 shows perceptions of the characteristics of netilantism based on
the identified role. Pearson chi-square test found that only “general discussion” and “jus-
tice and fairness” were significantly different among the roles. More than 70% of neti-
lante and victim but only half of the bystander and none of the roles perceived netilantism
as a kind of general discussion (χ2 = 16.80, p < .01). In addition, 77% of netilante but less
than half of the bystander (40%), victim (14.7%), and none of the roles (24.5%) per-
ceived netilantism as a tool to achieve justice and fairness (χ2 = 50.70, p < .01).
Table 2. Role Distribution in Netilantism (n = 295).
N/%
Bystander 143 (48.5%)
Netilante 69 (23.4%)
Victim 34 (11.5%)
None of the roles 49 (16.6%)
Total 295 (100%)
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
12 International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
Table 4. Role Differences in Netilantism.
Variable Role M (SD)F
Perceived effectiveness
of criminal justice
system
Bystander 2.81 (0.56) 21.92**
Netilante 2.34 (0.46)
Victim 3.22 (0.49)
None 2.87 (0.71)
Level of self-efficacy in
cyber word
Bystander 2.52 (0.90) 31.81**
Netilante 3.58 (0.75)
Victim 2.71 (0.85)
None 2.20 (0.88)
Netilantism can
achieve social justice
Bystander 2.45 (0.54) 47.46**
Netilante 3.15 (0.40)
Victim 2.08 (0.42)
None 2.40 (0.53)
*p < .05. **p < .01.
Role Differences in Netilantism
ANOVA focusing on the effect of role differences in netilantism on various variables
including the participants’ perception of the effectiveness of criminal justice system,
level of self-efficacy in cyber world, and perception of the function of netilantism
(whether it can achieve social justice) are shown in Table 4. Post hoc test (Scheffe)
further analyzes the differences within each role and is shown in Table 5.
Perceived Effectiveness of the Criminal Justice System
Victim (M = 3.22, SD = 0.49) had the highest mean score, followed by none of the
roles (M = 2.87, SD = 0.71), bystander (M = 2.81, SD = 0.56), and netilante (M = 2.34,
SD = 0.46). The above results are significant, F(3, 291) = 21.92, p < .001, as shown in
Table 3. Different Roles Perceived Characteristic(s) of Netilantism.
Variable/role Total Bystander Netilante Victim None χ2
Privacy disclosure 238 (80.7%) 110 (76.9%) 55 (79.7%) 31 (91.2%) 42 (85.7%) 4.54
Insulting targets 225 (76.3%) 106 (74.1%) 54 (78.3%) 30 (88.2%) 35 (71.4%) 3.84
Making fun 185 (62.7%) 85 (59.4%) 44 (63.8%) 28 (82.4%) 28 (57.1%) 6.95
General discussion 174 (59.0%) 73 (51.0%) 50 (72.5%) 27 (79.4%) 24 (49.0%) 16.80**
Hacking 121 (41.0%) 51 (35.7%) 36 (52.2%) 13 (38.2%) 21 (42.9%) 5.42
Justice and fairness 127 (43.1%) 57 (39.9%) 53 (76.8%) 5 (14.7%) 12 (24.5%) 50.70**
Note. Total (all participants, n = 295), bystander (n = 143), netilante (n = 69), victim (n = 34), none
(n = 49).
*p < .05. **p < .01.
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Chang and Poon 13
ANOVA. Post hoc test further shows that all the roles had a significant difference with
each other, except bystander and none of the roles (I – J = 0.05), which had no
Table 5. Role Differences in Netilantism (Post Hoc Test: Scheffe).
Variable (I) Role (J) Role Mean difference (I – J) SE
Perceived
effectiveness of
criminal justice
system
1 2 0.47* .08
3 −0.42* .11
4 −0.05 .09
1 −0.47* .08
2 3 −0.89* .12
4 −0.53* .10
1 0.42* .11
3 2 0.89* .12
4 0.36* .12
1 0.05 .09
4 2 0.53* .10
3 −0.36* .12
Level of self-
efficacy in cyber
word
1 2 −1.07* .13
3 −0.20 .16
4 0.32 .14
1 1.07* .13
2 3 0.87* .18
4 1.38* .16
1 0.20 .16
3 2 −0.87* .18
4 0.51 .16
1 −0.32 .14
4 2 −1.38* .16
3 −0.51 .19
Netilantism can
achieve social
justice
1 2 −0.70* .07
3 0.37* .09
4 0.05 .08
1 0.70* .07
2 3 1.07* .10
4 0.76* .09
1 −0.37* .09
3 2 −1.07* .10
4 −0.32* .11
1 −0.05 .08
4 2 −0.76* .09
3 0.32* .11
Note. 1 = bystander; 2 = netilante; 3 = victim; 4 = none of the roles.
*p < .05. **p < .01.
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
14 International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
significant difference. It also shows that netilante and victim had the largest difference
(I – J = 0.89) on perceptions of the criminal justice system. The participants generally
perceived the effectiveness of the criminal justice system in Hong Kong as neutral or
ineffective because the highest mean score was only 3.22. However, when role differ-
ences were compared, netilante perceived it as the most ineffective whereas victim
perceived it as the most effective.
Level of Self-Efficacy in Cyber World
Netilante (M = 3.58, SD = 0.74) had the highest mean score, followed by victim
(M = 2.71, SD = 0.84), bystander (M = 2.52, SD = 0.90), and none of the roles (M = 2.20,
SD = 0.88). The ANOVA test result was significant, F(3, 291) = 31.81, p < .001. Post hoc
test showed that only netilante had significant differences with other roles whereas the
differences among victim, bystander, and none of the roles were insignificant. The larg-
est difference of level of self-efficacy in the cyber world was netilante and none of the
roles (I – J = 1.38), followed by netilante and bystander (I – J = 1.07), and netilante and
victim (I – J = 0.87). Netilante had the highest level of self-efficacy in the cyber world
when compared with other roles in netilantism.
Netilantism as a Tool to Achieve Social Justice
ANOVA showed the perception of whether netilantism could serve social justice was
significant among the roles, F(3, 291) = 47.45, p < .001. Netilante (M = 3.15,
SD = 0.40) had the highest mean score, followed by bystander (M = 2.45, SD = 0.54),
none of the roles (M = 2.40, SD = 0.53), and victim (M = 2.08, SD = 0.42). Post hoc
test further showed that all the roles had a significant difference with each other, except
bystander and none of the roles, which had no significant differences. Netilante and
victims had the largest mean difference (I – J = 1.07) on this perception. Only netilante
perceived netilantism as achieving social justice while other roles did not.
Discussion
Roles Differences in Netilantism
Based on the ANOVA, all the proposed hypotheses are supported. Among the roles in
netilantism, netilantes most perceived the criminal justice system as ineffective, pos-
sess highest level of self-efficacy in the cyber world, and are the only role who per-
ceived netilantism as capable of achieving social justice (see Table 6).
Vigilantism aims to achieve social justice by remedying structural flaws in society
(Johnston, 1996). The findings of this study show that netilantes are the only role who
perceived netilantism as capable of achieving social justice. In the “Government
Official Molestation Case,” two main factors motivated the netizens to achieve social
justice. First, child molestation is a serious crime, which can easily arouse public
anger. Public figures violating laws are usually seen as “doubly guilty,” especially
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Chang and Poon 15
when the offender is a government official responsible for managing the country and
is expected to be a good role model for the younger generation. Second, the official’s
arrogant language (“I am a government official” and “There is no way you can sue
me!”) indicated that he is not ashamed and shows no remorse for his actions. Instead,
he was trying to take advantage of his privileged position to avoid accountability and
punishment. Outraged by what they see, netilantes revealed the identity and other
information about the offender. This caught the attention of the formal justice system
and the offender was eventually brought to justice. In this case, the aim of bringing
about social justice was realized through netilantism.
In addition to “netilantism can achieve social justice,” netilantes more than other
roles perceived the criminal justice system as ineffective. Netilantism happens when
the public loses confidence in the formal justice system and believes alternative ways
should be adopted to achieve justice (Minnar, 2002). The above case can also be seen
as reflecting public distrust in China’s formal justice system. Netilante activities were
initiated as soon as the offender claimed he was a government official. Netilantes
understand the notion of “bureaucrats protecting each other.” Netilantism can serve to
punish offenders and corrupt officials (Ruan, 2011). Acts of netilantism in China can
help reveal corruption and crimes committed by government officials (Chang &
Leung, 2015; Cheong & Gong, 2010).
Victim, however, perceived netilantism as the least effective in achieving social
justice. In the “Cat Abuse Case in Shun Tin Village,” five innocent people instead of
the real perpetrators were singled out for online criticism and punishment. To investi-
gate whether netilantism can achieve social justice, the operation of the formal justice
system may be used as a comparison. A formal court emphasizes facts, evidence, and
testimony. The judgment of the court is based on the evidence collected. Also, the
court provides the suspect (target) with an opportunity to defend himself. However, in
netilantism, when a person is identified, netizens rarely verify whether the identified
target is the real perpetrator but criticise him immediately and without providing the
target an opportunity to defend himself. Innocent people are more likely to be targeted
in netilantism than in the formal justice system. Netilantism does not necessarily
achieve social justice. Instead, it can be counterproductive when innocent people are
Table 6. Summary of the Role Differences in Netilantism.
Role
Perceived effectiveness
of Crininal Justice
system
Netilantism can
achieve social
justice
Level of self-
efficacy in cyber
world
Netilante Most ineffective Most agree Highest level
Victim Most effective Most disagree No significant
difference with
each other
Bystander No significant difference with each other
None of the roles
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
16 International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
targeted. This might explain why victims of netilantism, who have been deprived of
rights to defend themselves and who have been misunderstood by the public, perceive
netilantism as an ineffective way to achieve social justice. Similarly, it is easy to
understand why a victim perceives the criminal justice system as more effective.
People opposed to netilantism claim the randomness and unstructured nature of neti-
lantism will lead to innocent people being punished (Ruan, 2011).
Bystander and none of the roles, which are not significantly different from each
other, lie between netilante and victim. They perceive netilantism as achieving a higher
or lower level of justice than victim or netilante, respectively. Also, compared with
netilante, they were more likely to perceive the criminal justice system as effective,
but not as effective as perceived by victim. Netilantes and victims have extreme per-
ceptions of the function of netilantism and criminal justice systems based on their
experiences of netilantism. Although bystanders are also involved in netilantism, they
merely observe the process without taking any action. “None of the roles” were not
involved in netilantism and some did not even know what it was. Therefore, it is not
surprising that bystander and none of the roles have a less extreme perception of its
effectiveness in achieving social justice and fall between netilante and victim.
Reasons to Participate in Netilantism
Empowerment theory is used as the theoretical framework in this article to examine
why netilantes are more likely to participate in netilantism. Among the roles in netilan-
tism, the results indicate netilantes have the highest level of self-efficacy in the cyber
world, perceive the criminal justice system as ineffective, and perceive netilantism as
a tool to achieve social justice. Psychological empowerment is the combination of
personal belief of control (perceived control) and involvement in community activities
(exert control). Participation in community activities is one of the ways to exercise a
sense of competence and control (Zimmerman, 2000). Netilantes perceive the criminal
justice system as ineffective and their goal is to remedy the inadequacy and achieve
social justice. They choose to participate in netilantism (i.e., empowerment tool)
because they believe it is an effective way to achieve social justice. By participating in
netilantism (exert control), they achieve their goal and thus enhance their level of self-
efficacy (perceived control; see Figure 1). As their goal is achieved and the level of
self-efficacy is enhanced, they will tend to participate more in netilantism, and the
cycle is strengthened. According to K. Brown, Jackson, and Cassidy (2006), people
who are physically weak with low social status can derive social power from the
strength of their use of technology in the cyber world. New media empowers the pub-
lic to report anything they wish without being constrained by relative political power
or socio-economic status. Social stratification is eliminated as every netizen has equal
rights and powers in the cyber world (Wang, 2011). Netilantism can be seen as an
empowerment tool for netilantes.
In addition to empowerment theory, some researchers have proposed other reasons
why netizens participate in netilantism. Chiu and Hsu (2004) stated that some “vigi-
lantes” may not aim to achieve social justice but use netilantism as a means to measure
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Chang and Poon 17
their computer skills and knowledge. In Hong Kong, forums that are famous in neti-
lantism have established ranking tables to measure the popularity of their members.
Some people who perform netilantism may aim to show off their technological skills
in pursuit of a higher level of popularity. Netilantism can fulfill personal needs includ-
ing curiosity, entertainment, personal animosity, conforming with others, and self-
actualization (Y. L. Li, 2008, Long & Tang, 2012; P. Xiao, 2011).
The results in this article cannot rule out the possibility that some netilantes aim to
satisfy their personal needs. However, they show that netilantes generally perceive the
criminal justice system as flawed and they seek to achieve social justice to improve
society. It is an interesting finding that indicates that “achieving social justice” and
“satisfying personal needs” are not mutually exclusive. Netilantes who participate in
netilantism may aim to achieve social justice and satisfy their personal needs (e.g., for
pleasure) simultaneously.
Conclusion
The findings of this study suggest that among the roles in netilantism, netilantes who
possess the highest level of self-efficacy in the cyber world, perceive the criminal
justice system as ineffective and—unlike all other roles—perceive netilantism as
achieving social justice effectively. It is congruent with the empowerment theory pro-
posed by Zimmerman (2000), which explained that an individual has a higher level of
self-efficacy in achieving a goal by participating in community activities. Netilantism,
which corresponds to a form of community activity, empowers netilantes to achieve
social justice. It should be noted that the current research is limited by the small num-
ber of participants in our sample. The number of “netilantes” and “victims” in our
research was lower than expected. Because these two roles are regarded unfavorably
by society, the participants may not report honestly because of a social desirability
Figure 1. Conceptual framework of psychological empowerment via netilantism.
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
18 International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
bias. In addition, because this study focused on the population aged between 18 and
25, it is not possible to generalize the findings to people in other age groups.
An interesting finding in this research is that the objectives of performing netilan-
tism—“achieving social justice” and “satisfying personal needs”—are not mutually
exclusive. There are three possible explanations for this phenomenon. First, the neti-
lante actually achieves social justice and satisfies his personal needs simultaneously.
Second, the netilante who is satisfying his personal needs wrongly perceives his acts
as achieving social justice. Third, the netilante realizes that he is not achieving social
justice but uses it as an excuse to rationalize his acts. Netilantism under the second and
the third situations may be regarded as cyberbullying. There is only a fine line between
netilantism and cyberbullying.
This article addresses whether university students in Hong Kong who participate in
netilantism have a relatively higher sense of serving social justice than other roles such
as bystander or victims. It has not focused on the negative aspects of netilantism,
which would be a useful topic for further research.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
this article.
References
Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. New
York, NY: Prentice Hall.
Banks, J. J., Carson, B. L., Nelson, M. A., & Nicol, D. M. (2005). Discrete event system simula-
tion (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Barak, A., Nissim, M. B., & Suler, J. (2008). Fostering empowerment in online support groups.
Computers in Human Behavior, 24, 1867-1883.
Barthel, B., & Harrison, T. M. (2009). Wielding new media in Web 2.0: Exploring the history of
engagement with the collaborative construction of media products. New Media & Society,
11, 155-178.
Black, D. (1984). Toward a general theory of social control. New York, NY: Academic Press.
Brenner, S. (2007). Private-public sector cooperation in combating cybercrime: In search of a
model. Journal of International Commercial Law Technology, 2, 58-67.
Broadhurst, R., & Chang, L. Y. C. (2013). Cybercrime in Asia: Trends and challenges. In J.
Liu, B. Hebenton, & S. Jou (Eds.), Asian handbook of criminology (pp. 49-64). New York,
NY: Springer.
Brown, K., Jackson, M., & Cassidy, W. (2006). Cyber-bullying: Developing a policy to direct
responses that are equitable and effective in addressing this special form of bullying.
Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 57. Retrieved from http://
umanitoba.ca/publications/cjeap/articles/brown_jackson_cassidy.html
Brown, R. (1975). Strain of violence. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Chang and Poon 19
Bruns, A. (2008). Blogs, Wikipedia, second life, and beyond: From production to produsage.
New York, NY: Peter Lang.
Bu, S. T. (2008). A study of renrou sousou and the invasion of privacy. Journal of Shenyang
Normal University, 32, 93-96.
Burrows, W. (1976). Vigilante. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Castells, M. (2008). Interview with Manuel Castells. Chinese Journal of Communication, 1, 3-6.
Chang, L. Y. C. (2012). Cybercrime in the Greater China Region: Regulatory responses and
crime prevention across the Taiwan Strait. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
Chang, L. Y. C. (2013). Formal and informal modalities for policing cybercrime across the
Taiwan Strait. Policing & Society, 22, 540-555.
Chang, L. Y. C., & Leung, A. K. H. (2015). An introduction to cyber crowdsourcing (human
flesh search) in the Greater China region. In R. Smith, R. Cheung, & L. Lau (Eds.),
Cybercrime risks and responses: Eastern and Western perspectives (pp. 240-252). New
York, NY: Palgrave.
Chen, W. Y. (2008). Will the first “human flesh search” trial set restrictions on the practice.
Retrieved from http://www.zonaeuropa.com/20080802_1.htm
Cheng, J. W., & Xue, H. Z. (2011). Using and regulating of human flesh search in crime inves-
tigation. Social Science, 7, 114-121. (In Chinese)
Cheng, L., Zhang, L., & Wang, J. (2012). A study of human flesh search with epidemic models.
Proceedings of the 3rd Annual ACM Web Science Conference, WebSci’12 (pp. 67-73). IL:
ACM.
Cheong, P. H., & Gong, J. (2010). Cyber vigilantism, transmedia collective intelligence, and
civil participation. Chinese Journal of Communication, 3, 471-487.
Chiu, C. M., & Hsu, M. H. (2004). Internet self-efficacy and electronic service acceptance.
Decision Support Systems, 38, 369-381.
Cho, D., & Kim, S. (2012). Empirical analysis of online anonymity and user behaviors: The
impact of real name policy. Retrieved from http://www.computer.org/csdl/proceedings/
hicss/2012/4525/00/06149194.pdf
Dickerson, F. B. (1998). Strategies that foster empowerment. Cognitive and Behavioral
Practice, 5, 255-275.
Fan, H. M. (2008, November 4). Government official molestation case. People. Retrieved from
http://politics.people.com.cn/GB/30178/8278124.html
Frankfort-Nachmias, C. (1997). Social statistics for a diverse society. Thousand Oaks, CA:
SAGE.
Gross, R., & Acquisti, A. (2005). Information revelation and privacy in online social networks.
Proceedings of WPES’05 (pp. 71-80). Alexandria, VA: ACM.
Hatton, C. (2014, January 28). China’s Internet vigilantes and the “human flesh search engine.”
BBC. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-25913472
Herold, D. K. (2011). Human flesh search engines: Carnivalesque riots as components of
a “Chinese democracy.” In D. K. Herold & P. Marlot (Eds.), Online society in China:
Creating, celebrating, and instrumentalising the online carnival (pp. 127-145). Oxford,
UK: Routledge.
Holt, T., & Klinger, M. (2012). Examining willingness to attack critical infrastructure online
and offline. Crime & Delinquency, 58, 798-822.
Hsu, M. H., & Chiu, C. M. (2004). Internet self-efficacy and electronic service acceptance.
Decision Support Systems, 38, 369-381.
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
20 International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
Hunton, P. (2009). The growing phenomenon of crime and the Internet: A cybercrime execution
and analysis model. Computer Law & Security Review, 25, 528-535.
International Telecommunication Union. (2011). The World in 2011—ICT facts and figures.
Retrieved from http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/facts/2011/material/ICTFactsFigures2011.pdf
Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New
York University Press.
Johnston, L. (1996). What is vigilantism? British Journal of Criminology, 36, 220-236.
Jordan, T. (1999). Cyberpower: The culture and politics of cyberspace and the Internet. London,
England: Psychology Press.
Jou, H. S., & Chang, J. H. (2012, November 11). Cat abusing case. AppleDaily. Retrieved from
http://hk.apple.nextmedia.com/news/art/20121118/18070785
Kling, R. (2000). Learning about information technologies and social change: The contribution
of social informatics. Information Society, 16, 217-232.
Lee, R., & Seekings, J. (2002). Vigilantism and popular justice after apartheid. In D. Feenan
(Ed.), Informal criminal justice (pp. 99-116). Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
Li, D. D. (2009). The legality of human flesh search engine. Legal System and Society, 9, 106.
(In Chinese)
Li, Y. L. (2008). From violent human flesh search engine to friendly human computer search
engine. Press Circles, 5, 141-143.
Liu, W. F. (2009). Achieving cyber justice or cyber violence of human flesh search. Journal of
Hubei University of Economics, 6, 130-132. (In Chinese)
Long, H. X., & Tang, L. Z. (2012). The pros and cons and the regulations of human flesh search
engine. Media Observation, 2, 52-55. (In Chinese)
Lu, Y. N. (2012). A study on human flesh search. Journal of Jiannan Literature, 5, 230. (In
Chinese)
Minnar, A. (2002). The new vigilantism in post-April 1994 South Africa: Searching for explana-
tions. In D. Feenan (Ed.), Informal criminal justice (pp. 117-134). Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
Ong, R. (2012). Online vigilante justice Chinese style and privacy in China. Information &
Communications Technology Law, 21, 127-145.
Perkins, D. D., & Zimmerman, M. A. (1995). Empowerment theory, research, and application.
American Journal of Community Psychology, 23, 569-579.
Pfohl, S. J. (1985). Images of deviance and social control: A sociological history. New York,
NY: McGraw-Hill.
Rappaport, J. (1987). Terms of empowerment/exemplars of prevention: Toward a theory for
community Psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology, 15, 121-148.
Ruan, J. S. (2011). The essentiality and legality of human flesh search engine. Journal of
Guangxi Police Academy, 1, 55-57. (In Chinese)
Si, A. L. (2010). The justice and evil of human flesh search engine. Journal of Changchun
University of Technology, 22, 59-61. (In Chinese)
Stone, R. A., & Levine, A. G. (1985). Reactions to collective stress: Correlates of active citizen
participation. Prevention in Human Services, 4, 153-177.
Straker, D. (2008). Social norms. Retrieved from http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/
uploads/2013/01/BUS209-4.1-Power-in-Organizations.pdf
Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7, 321-326.
Wadhwa, T. (2013, April 22). Lessons from crowdsourcing the Boston Bombing investigation.
Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/tarunwadhwa/2013/04/22/lessons-
from-crowdsourcing-the-boston-marathon-bombings-investigation/
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Chang and Poon 21
Wang, Y. Y. (2011). The phenomenon of human flesh search. Youth Journalist, 29, 58-59. (In
Chinese)
Webb, S. (2015, 12 January). Charlie Hebdo: Anonymous claim first victory against jihadists
after declaring cyberwar following Paris massacre. Mirror. Retrieved from http://www.
mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/charlie-hebdo-anonymous-claim-first-4965309
Xiao, P. (2011). An analysis of the phenomenon of Internet mass hunting. Journal of Hunan
University, 25, 156-160.
Xu, B., & Ji, S. T. (2008). Renrou sousou: An Internet lynching. Retrieved from http://news.
xinhuanet.com/english/2008-07/04/content_8491087.htm
Ye, X. M., & Li, J. (2009). Moral analysis of human flesh search engine. Youth Studies, 5, 43-
46. (In Chinese)
Zetter, K. (2007, November 21). Cyberbullying suicide stokes the Internet fury machine. Wire.
Retrieved from http://archive.wired.com/politics/onlinerights/news/2007/11/vigilante_jus-
tice
Zhu, H. X., Shang, X. G., & Hu, J. C. (2009). The 2009 analysis report on China’s Internet
media report. Retrieved from http://yq.people.com.cn/htmlArt/Art392.htm
Zimmerman, M. A. (2000). Empowerment theory: Psychological, organizational and commu-
nity levels of analysis. In J. Rappaport & E. Seidman (Eds.), Handbook of community psy-
chology (pp. 43-63). New York, NY: Kluwer Academic.
Zook, M., & Graham, M. (2007). The creative reconstruction of the Internet: Google and the
privatization of cyberspace and digiplace. Geoforum, 38, 1322-1434.
by guest on March 20, 2016ijo.sagepub.comDownloaded from
... Other commonalities included some of the conditions placed within stories (i.e., celebrities being inherently more deserving; Milosevic, 2015), females being more susceptible (Lumsden & Morgan, 2017;Milosevic, 2015) and being subjected to different types of behaviours (i.e., body shaming, rape threats; Lumsden & Morgan, 2017), certain rationalisations for shaming (i.e., freedom of speech; Lumsden & Morgan, 2017;Milosevic, 2015), serious consequences (i.e., depression, suicide; Milosevic, 2015), and the players held responsible (i.e., educators, figures in power, social media companies; Milosevic, 2015). Some aspects of the current findings are also discussed within related literature, such as social policing (i.e., Skoric et al., 2010), whistle-blowing (i.e., Dozier & Miceli, 1985;Skoric et al., 2010), anonymity (i.e., Morio & Buchholz, 2009), online disinhibition (i.e., Chang & Poon, 2017), and mob mentality (i.e., Bakshy et al., 2012). However, many of these claims and rationalisations have merely been put forward as explanations for online shaming rather than actually tested empirically, or at least not evidenced within the context of online shaming specifically. ...
Article
Full-text available
Online shaming, where individuals participate in social policing by shaming supposed wrongdoings on the internet, is a rapidly increasing and global phenomenon. The potential impacts of online shaming are said to be extensive and wide-reaching, however minimal empirical research on this topic has been conducted to date, with existing coverage being largely anecdotal and media-based. The current study aims to demonstrate how online shaming is constructed in contemporary online news media. Qualitative analysis using Giles and Shaw’s (2009) media framing analysis was completed on 69 online news articles published within the last two years concerning online shaming. Two overarching representations of online shaming were uncovered: a dominant narrative framing online shaming as a dangerous threat with serious consequences, and a smaller frame representing online shaming as more constructive and capable of resulting in positive outcomes. Variations in conditions presented, as well as the many rationalisations, consequences, and recommendations posed for mitigating online shaming embedded within the articles collectively represent online shaming as a multifaceted and morally ambiguous phenomenon. Understanding media depictions of online shaming is important, as it may have broader implications for public perceptions, debate, and support of policies and other related processes.
... In the case of searching for perpetrators of crimes, these efforts often identify assailants, such as the Boston Marathon bomber or members of hate groups (Douglas, 2020;Gray & Benning, 2019;Nhan et al., 2017). However, these efforts sometimes become an exercise in vigilantism and deviate from true crowdsourced efforts as they lack a clear crowdsourcer or a clear criminal justice purpose; moreover, if the target is misidentified, there is no clear response to remedy the error (Chang & Poon, 2017;Douglas, 2020;Loveluck, 2020). ...
Chapter
Ethnographers must now confront the multi-sited, digital and mobile nature of social, cultural and economic life. As a result, the use of digital ethnography, traditional ethnographic methods modified to interact with online communities and environments, has steadily increased in anthropology and the social sciences. Criminologists are beginning to make use of the approach in response to the increasing need to account for the complex digital features of contemporary forms of criminality, victimization, policing and punishment. In this chapter, we outline some selected details of our experiences as ethnographers conducting criminological research in virtual worlds. We cover key issues that range from practical challenges and ethical quandaries through analytical capabilities to epistemological issues in the hope our reflections go some way in helping budding digital ethnographers in criminology.
... In the case of searching for perpetrators of crimes, these efforts often identify assailants, such as the Boston Marathon bomber or members of hate groups (Douglas, 2020;Gray & Benning, 2019;Nhan et al., 2017). However, these efforts sometimes become an exercise in vigilantism and deviate from true crowdsourced efforts as they lack a clear crowdsourcer or a clear criminal justice purpose; moreover, if the target is misidentified, there is no clear response to remedy the error (Chang & Poon, 2017;Douglas, 2020;Loveluck, 2020). ...
Chapter
As the internet has become cheaper, faster, and more widely used, the amount of data generated by people has increased exponentially. Much of the data is provided by users' activities, often mundane tasks, like making purchases, engaging in exercise routines, and consuming streaming content. In some cases, these tasks are leveraged by criminal actors; in others, these tasks include criminal activities. Using data to explore patterns of offending and victimization is critical to understanding crime trends in the digital age. This chapter explores how researchers have used open source data collection techniques and have solicited data using crowdsourcing to develop viable data sets to explore social scientific enquiries. These techniques illustrate that it is increasingly possible to gather and solicit information and analytical help to explore deviance, victimization, social taboos, and behaviors that are often kept out of public view but nonetheless impact society.
Article
We test the theoretical and practical utility of the vigilante identity, a self-perception of being the kind of person who monitors their environment for signs of norm violations, and who punishes the perceived norm violator, without formal authority. We develop and validate a measure of the vigilante identity scale (VIS) and demonstrate the scale’s incremental predictive validity above and beyond seemingly related constructs (Studies 1 – 2e). We show that the VIS predicts hypervigilance towards organizational wrongdoing (Studies 2 and 4), punishment intentions and behavior in and of organizations (Studies 3 and 4) as well as in the wider community (Study 1), and is activated under organizational justice failure conditions (Study 3). We maintain that vigilantes can impact organizations and society from both inside and outside organizational walls and we discuss theoretical implications for scholarship on vigilantes, as well as on morality, social norms, and third-party punishment in organizations.
Article
Full-text available
Digital vigilantism can be defined as the coordinated actions of civic groups in virtual space (not excluding the possibility of going offline) in response to imaginary or real actions of third parties or as the expression of outrage at a real-world event recorded and uploaded online. Digital vigilantism serves as an informalised institution of online civil society, regulating behaviour and punishing citizens for actions or intentions that are inappropriate from the vigilantes point of view. In modern Russia, movements that were formed as a result of the interactions between NGOs, individual activists and the authorities, that are now acting as auxiliary institutions, become quite popular. This phenomenon suggests the spread of guided vigilantism. The authors argue that the governmental structures recognize the impossibility of solving some conflict situations within formal institutions and therefore legitimize their regulation through network interactions. This article focuses on the gender aspects of digital vigilantism in Russia. In order to analyze gender characteristics of Russian vigilante communities, the authors collected the data on the subscribers of six online communities using the VKontakte API (application programming interface): StopHam, Lev Protiv, Khrushi Protiv, Sorok Sorokov, Anti-Dealer and Sober Yard. A dataset of 818 927 records was generated, which included basic socio-demographic information about the users (ID, user-specified name, gender, age, city). Analyzing the posts and comments uploaded over the last two years and the database of subscribers of typical vigilante communities in the VKontakte social network (2900 subscriptions), the authors were able to come closer to understanding users motivations, define the social portrait of a typical digital vigilante and identify gender characteristics of the movement. Research outcomes confirm the problematic persistence of gender asymmetry and the inheritance of enduring cultural stereotypes regarding the correlation between the female and the male, even concerning such a new form of civic activism in Russia as digital vigilantism.
Article
Full-text available
Like most criminological research, much of the research on hacking has predominantly focused upon the Northern Metropolis. As a result, there is a lack of focus on cybercrime within the Global South, particularly on illegal intrusions into computer systems, more colloquially known as hacking. This article provides a critical overview of hacking in the Global South, highlighting the role of strain in this offending behaviour. In particular, the authors note the role of Australian, American, and Taiwanese immigration policies that act to block offenders’ transitions from illicit hacking to legitimate employment in technological hubs outside of the Global South. To address these blocked opportunities, this article suggests the use of innovative justice paradigms, particularly restorative justice and regulatory self-enforcement, that respond to innovation-based cybercrime while also facilitating offender movement into “white hat” employment, even in cases of technology-facilitated sexual violence.
Article
In November 2018, Monica Baey, a student at the National University of Singapore (NUS) was recorded by a fellow student while showering in university accommodation. After the perpetrator was issued a formal warning and a one-semester suspension, Baey posted about the case on social media and named the perpetrator. This generated public support, news coverage and institutional reform. In this article, we explore a range of responses to the Monica Baey case through a thematic analysis of publicly available comments about the case on a popular message board forum, Hardwarezone. By contextualising our analysis within the political setting of Singapore, this research demonstrates that public responses to testimony-based resistance require close analysis, as extant tools for citizens to engage in ‘naming and shaming’, were relevant to understanding these responses to this mode of resistance and reflected what Ibrahim (2018) calls ‘everyday authoritarianism’.
Article
In this article, I propose and apply a digital vigilantism model to a specific incident that occurred in Mexico, where the death of two innocent people was filmed through Facebook Live. Using a mixed methods approach and content analysis, I analyzed digilante Facebook posts ( N = 942) coding gender, digital vigilantism categories, discriminatory comments, and punitive attitudes aimed at the perpetrators and the inciter of the lynching. The categories include investigating, blaming, or rebuking, while the discriminatory comments include classism, racism, homophobia, and body-shaming. I coded the punitive attitudes distinguishing four categories: non-physical punishment (calling for God’s wrath and the guilty conscience of the targets), legal sanction, death, and other punishment. The findings reveal the key role gender played in digilantism: females tend to conduct more investigations and low level attacks (blaming) than males, but males tend to perpetrate more harsh attacks (rebuking) than females. The most popular punitive attitude is calling for the death of targets, revealing tensions between legal sanctions and digilantes’ desired punishment. This study suggests the presence of different expressions of discrimination and reasons to engage in digilantism, encompassing both legal and illegal behavior deployed in a mainstream social media platform such as Facebook.
Article
The growth of the Internet has seen the emergence of elaborate examples of cybercrime in the form of ‘scams’. Alongside this, a resistance has also developed, with ‘scambaiters’ engaging in complex and deceptive scenarios to waste scammers’ time and educate others about online scams. This has been facilitated by the evolution of new media platforms inclusive of the live stream video-sharing site Twitch, where scambaiters take part in interactions with scammers in real time in front of large audiences. Such platforms present significant potential for diverse interaction and participation roles that move beyond those of other sites and audiovisual media. Scambaiting texts thus present a valuable opportunity to explore the complex interactive affordances of live stream video-sharing platforms. In this article, we aim to map an interactional framework for live-streamed video-sharing platforms by analysing a scambait call by the scambaiter ‘Kitboga’ on Twitch. The results show that the platform of Twitch and the novel context of a live-streamed scambait call offer new insights into online interaction within the context of emerging digital genres.
Chapter
Full-text available
The rapid growth in Internet use in Asia, including a tenfold or more increases in access in China, Indonesia and India since 2002 has also been accompanied by significant increases in cybercrime. The development of commercial-scale exploit toolkits and criminal networks that focus on monetization of malware have amplified the risks of cybercrime. The law-enforcement response in Asia is briefly reviewed in the context of the 2001 Council of Europe’s Cybercrime (Budapest) Convention. We describe the nature of cybercrime (including both ‘hate’ or content and ‘crime-ware’ such as botnets) and compare the laws and regulations in Asian states with the provisions of the Convention. The challenges faced in developing effective cross-national policing of cybercrime in Asia are also addressed as problems emerge around cloud computing, social media, wireless/smart phone applications and other innovations in digital technology.
Chapter
Full-text available
Cyber crowdsourcing — known in Chinese as renrou sousou, literally “human flesh search” (HFS) — is a type of collective online action aimed at discovering facts relating to certain events and/or publicizing details concerning a targeted individual (Cheung 2009; Herold 2011; Ong 2012). It involves the tracking down and publishing on the Internet of information that might help to solve a crime or to disclose personal information of someone who has allegedly engaged in corrupt practices or immoral behavior (Hatton 2014; Ong 2012). It can also be used to identify people in events that attract the public’s attention, such as love affairs of celebrities. Examples from the Chinese online community include news about people who abuse animals, teenagers who do not respect their elders, wealthy children who do not care about the feelings of others, and the behavior of corrupt officials. Although some Chinese researchers claim it is an online phenomenon unique to the Greater China region (Cheng and Xue 2011), similar cases have emerged in the West in recent years. One recent example is the identification of suspects responsible for the Boston marathon bombings (Wadhwa 2013).
Chapter
Vigilantism1 in post-1994 South Africa remains a highly emotional and contentious issue not only politically but also on a community and policing level. In the post1994 era there have been subtle changes from the pre-1994 forms of vigilantism. Vigilante activity in the period before 1990 has largely been explained in terms of political motivations (liberation and struggle ideology or the ‘conservative’ response of covert state supported actions by surrogates or proxy agent provocateurs). In the mid-1980s, individuals and groups often took the law into their own hands in what were perceived to be ‘legitimate’ attacks on agents and structures of the apartheid state. Alternatively, they were seen as pre-emptive, retaliatory or revenge responses to those attacks by other elements and groupings politically opposed to the politics o f ‘struggle’ in the townships (Coleman, 1998; Du Toit and Gagiano, 1993).
Book
Cybercrime is a worldwide problem of rapidly increasing magnitude and, of the countries in the Asia Pacific region, Taiwan and China are suffering most. This timely book discusses the extent and nature of cybercrime in and between Taiwan and China, focussing especially on the prevalence of botnets (collections of computers that have been compromised and used for malicious purposes). The book uses routine activity theory to analyse Chinese and Taiwanese legal responses to cybercrime, and reviews mutual assistance between the two countries as well as discussing third party cooperation. To prevent the spread of cybercrime, the book argues the case for a ‘wiki’ approach to cybercrime and a feasible pre-warning system. Learning from lessons in infectious disease prevention and from aviation safety reporting, Cybercrime in the Greater China Region proposes a feasible information security incident reporting and response system. Academics, government agency workers, policymakers and those in the information security or legal compliance divisions in public and private sectors will find much to interest them in this timely study.
Book
Discrete Event System Simulation is ideal for junior- and senior-level simulation courses in engineering, business, or computer science. It is also a useful reference for professionals in operations research, management science, industrial engineering, and information science. While most books on simulation focus on particular software tools, Discrete Event System Simulation examines the principles of modeling and analysis that translate to all such tools. This language-independent text explains the basic aspects of the technology, including the proper collection and analysis of data, the use of analytic techniques, verification and validation of models, and designing simulation experiments. It offers an up-to-date treatment of simulation of manufacturing and material handling systems, computer systems, and computer networks. Students and instructors will find a variety of resources at the associated website, www.bcnn.net/, including simulation source code for download, additional exercises and solutions, web links and errata.
Chapter
This chapter discusses the general theory of social control. It presents social control as a natural phenomenon that varies with its location and direction in social space. It is possible, in principle, to develop a body of sociological theory that will predict and explain how normative life differs from one setting to another or, in other words, to understand social control as a dependent variable. First advanced at the turn of the century by Edward Alsworth Ross (1901), the concept of social control has long been associated with the normative aspect of social life. In one usage, which dominated the earlier literature, social control refers broadly to virtually all of the human practices and arrangements that contribute to social order and, in particular, that influence people to conform. In a second and more recent usage, social control refers more narrowly to how people define and respond to deviant behavior. It, thus, includes punishment of every kind—such as the destruction or seizure of property, banishment, humiliation, beating, and execution—as well as the demand for compensation by a victim of misconduct, sorcery, gossip, scolding, or a facial expression of disapproval such as a scowl or stare.