Tobold's Blog
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Vigilante justice

Last week an 11-year old kid accepted an offer of help from a stranger on the internet, giving him access to his game of Destiny via the PS4 Share Play feature. The stranger promptly deleted the kid's characters and exotic weapons. So far, so "just another day on the internet". The video of the event went viral. And the internet reacted in the usual way by taking up the torches and the pitchforks and harassing the person who owned the account which the stranger had used to ruin the kid's game of Destiny. Then of course it turned out that the stranger wasn't the account owner. Account sharing between friends and family is rather common, and the account owner had let somebody else play on his account.

Apart from being a double lesson in why account sharing in any way is a really bad idea, I think the story also is a lesson on the dangers of vigilante justice. In another story this week it turned out that one person who had posted bizarre death threat videos in the name of Gamergate was in fact a comedian with an extremely bad sense of humor who thought it would be funny to make an extreme parody of Gamergate. Now it is him who is getting the death threats.

The underlying problem is that apparently many people feel that the internet is a lawless space, and decide to take up justice in their own hands. Apart from that sometimes going wrong and ending up hurting the wrong person, the so-called "justice" is often far more criminal than the offense of person harassed. The person taking offense is more likely to end up in jail than the offender. The law is quite clear on that: If you put both the person who deletes a kid's Destiny character and the person who in response for that offence sent out death threats in front of a judge, the judge will find that only the death threat is a criminal offense.

Computer games are very much part of the internet, and it is probably because of this that the hate culture is so strong among gamers. Being called names and suffering ad hominem attacks for the "offense" of having an opinion about a game is considered normal. You are less likely to receive hate mail for having an opinion or making a decision that negatively affects the life of real people at work than you are for writing on a game blog. And that more and more becomes a death spiral, with reasonable and polite people quitting the discussion and leaving the field to the trolls and the haters. I don't think that this is good for gaming in the long term.

Yeah, the Gamergaters have turned their ire to that comedian with, well, "poor taste" would be an extreme understatement. He's now saying about how bad the harassment is, to which I'm sure that Anita Sarkeesian would say "O RLY?"

Actually, I'm quite surprised that some of the Gamergaters haven't tried linking that guy with Brianna Wu and company. Or maybe they have by now; the situation is damned fluid enough.

I haven't seen real justice systems doing much to police the internet except when it comes to child exploitation and fraud against big business. It's no wonder people feel like they need to resort to self-help. Is what the person did to the 11 year-old criminal "destruction of property" or the tort of conversion- probably, but how much money and other resources would it actually take to bring a case to the proper court, only to have a pool of jurors not even understand what the fuss is about.
The law moves more slowly than any other part of society and so it will still probably be an extended time before internet users can consistently rely on traditional legal channels to protect them. For now, its the wild west, which I think explains more of the primitive behavior.
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