Monday, August 23, 2010

Virtual Vigilantes and "the Furious Mob Spirit"

I've been wanting to blog on this topic for awhile, so here goes.  And, I suppose, a warning for "graphic" language is in order, for those who don't care for violence.

Lately, there's been a lot of talk about anonymous comments posting on news sites -- how, more often than not, the sentiments expressed are negative, ugly and far from civilized.  The types of things no one would dare say face to face or under their own name.  Some news outlets are either doing away with them altogether or trying to adopt policies similar to what they have always used with regard to sending in a written letter to the editor.  Commenters would have to verify their own name, address and phone number.

I suppose with the internet, there's always a way around such a thing.  That's not the main point of this blog, though.  I've posted a few snarky things here and there that I'd certainly want to revise if my true identity were there and people could call me on my remarks.  But I haven't called for death, torture, maiming or "creative" punishments for wrongdoers, and that type of opinion is always what comes to mind when the topic of banning anonymous comments is discussed.

Anytime a news story runs in which someone commits a particularly vile offense, especially child abuse, it sounds like the same people eagerly leap to the comment section to propose what THEY believe would be a fitting punishment.

Here's just one example from a story I read today, of three relatively young boys who raped a 23-month-old and left her nearly dead:

Annabelle:  I say cut the thing off and then nobody will have to worry about the little jerks. You know what the big guys do to child molesters in jail. PUt them in there, they will get castrated the old fashioned way. I'd sure love to be there to see it.

Jennifer:  Those boys should die.

Greg Brooks:  screw locking them up! Death and make it a long and painful death..I dont want to have to pay for these SOB's... take their dead bodies and feed them to the bears

These three comments are so classically typical of the stuff one usually finds in response to such a news story.  People like these commenters get plenty of encouragement from people like Nancy Grace, whose nightly news anchor style just drips venom -- possibly, it's theatrics, give the audience what they want, but one gets the impression she'd gladly trade her news credentials for a paycheck earned by "pulling the switch" on a different child abuser seven nights a week (preferably with a live camera feed).  I suspect that she and people like the bloodthirsty commenters above would readily condemn the public executions conducted by the Taliban pre-2002, and Saudi Arabia's efforts to medically paralyze a man as punishment for his crime.  Obviously, those people far across the sea are "savages."  Not like us civilized Americans.  

Does it serve a cathartic purpose for people like Annabelle, Jennifer, Greg Brooks and Nancy's legion of fans to spew this kind of over-the-top bloodlust?  Or is it something that feeds on itself and infects otherwise peaceable types, wending its way ultimately to the jury box and the judicial bench?  Is there a difference between the twisted mind of someone who commits a horrific crime such as child rape on impulse, and someone who sits and devises a punishment in which a perpetrator is dismembered and fed to the wildlife?

Discuss.  And have a nice day...

1 comment:

Bill Cooney said...

This was a good post. The "virtual vigilantes" you speak of are no doubt given permission to bloviate the way they do by people like Nancy Grace. You ask a thought-provoking question about why some people feel compelled to propose the incendiary as a plausible response to violent crime.

My theory is that until we all recognize that within each of us exists the whole of humanity's potential—both good and evil—we will sometimes defer to the obscene rather than take the time to formulate sensible ideas about how to react to the obscene. What's that old saying? "Two stupids don't make a smart?"