We’ve seen it a lot lately. Posts identifying “guilty” individuals imploring others to identify, condemn, even exact revenge, on the people identified.
It’s called Trial by Facebook, or Trial by Social Media and it involves the posting of content on Facebook or other social media that identifies and condemns individuals allegedly guilty of a crime and implores others to share the content, thus exposing the accused to an angry public.
Such content goes further than to simply lay out the facts of an incident. Trial by Social Media/Facebook content condemns and judges, often unfairly or without proof. And it is for that reason it is potentially dangerous and unjust. Such posts play judge, jury and executioner.
Trial by Facebook content will often explicitly condone vigilante justice, but even if it does not then it will always – to some extent – encourage it implicitly.
Resisting this type of behaviour can often prove difficult. We may feel that the people identified in the photos could arguably deserve being shamed in the public arena, and that by doing so we would discourage others from committing similar offenses.
Often Trial by Facebook/Social Media posts result from knee-jerk and impassioned reactions where we become the unwitting victims of our own emotions, only doing what makes us feel better in the short term rather than looking at the bigger picture.
However we live in a world with legal justice systems, and whether you agree or disagree with your legal system or with a specific sentence handed out, there is still never a place in any civilised world for vigilante justice. And vigilante justice is exactly what Trial by Facebook promotes and encourages.
And if that isn’t reason enough to stop you posting Trial by Social Media content, then here is a whole bunch of other reasons.
Inaccurate Content? Trial by Social media posts can often accumulate thousands, even hundreds of thousands of shares. And sadly the vast majority of people who share this type of content will do so without any verification or proof that it is accurate.
We never condone sharing such content even if you know it to be genuine – but blindly sharing it without verifying it is both irresponsible and negligent on an entirely different level. Not to mention dangerous.
And of course this can lead to innocent people facing difficulties in their lives, even facing the possibility of physical attacks. Not to mention people passing on such false information to their friends can themselves be sued and/or prosecuted under an array of charges including libel.
An example? Ask anyone called Thierry Mairot, who likely faced a difficult time after an entirely false rumour claiming he was a sexual predator trying to seduce children on Facebook spread like wildfire, when thousands of Facebook users circulated the rumour without verification. Or perhaps ask David Calvert, who was at the tail-end of a Facebook campaign falsely identifying him as James Bulger killer Jon Venables.
Imagine if a false rumour identified you? Would you want people to spread it? Think about that before hitting Share.
Mistaken Identity? Regardless if a Trial by Social Media post contains genuine information or not, they can still be dangerous to innocent individuals because of mistaken identity.
Viral posts containing names can lead to innocent people with the same name being abused and attacked.
Viral posts containing photos can lead to innocent people sharing similar physical characteristics being abused or attacked.
An example? Ask anyone who shares the same name as almost any modern day high profile murderer, when social media rumours are blindly passed from user to user incorrectly identifying Facebook accounts as the accounts belonging to the guilty. Ask James Holmes, who received constant abuse from Facebook users convinced – after seeing a Facebook rumour condemning his profile – that he was the Aurora movie theater killer.
Legal influences. Particularly viral posts about real cases have the potential to influence legal proceedings. So if charges are ever bought against guilty parties, damaging and libelous posts can make it difficult to prosecute.
In high profile cases, “Trial by Social Media” could cause prejudice in jury pools which could potentially cause cases to be dismissed because of unfair trials.
Remember that when you post to social media, you are publishing real content that can have real ramifications for real people. You are responsible for what you write and you are accountable for the consequences that may occur, whether they may be moral, legal, or both.
Both Trial by Social Media and the vigilante justice it encourages are both simply unacceptable in any civilised country. We don’t live in a world where anyone gets to decide what punishment to enact because that simply cannot work. Like it or not, we abide by the laws of the country in which we reside and we accept the punitive actions given by their courts. And if you encourage or enact vigilantism then you’re just as bad as anyone else who thinks crime is acceptable.