Miss Ruth Dunsby1, Dr Loene Howes1
1University of Tasmania, Australia
The vigilante figure has long captured public imagination. Within a digital society, vigilante activity increasingly occurs via social media in the form of online naming and shaming, hacktivism, and crowd-sourced policing. One prominent example of online naming occurs when people who are convicted or suspected of crime are subjected to embarrassment, harassment and/or condemnation, with potentially counterproductive impacts. This presentation reports the findings of a study that aimed to contribute to limiting the negative impacts of online naming and shaming by better understanding the phenomenon. The study employed a qualitative survey to explore Australian Facebook users’ views and experiences of online naming and shaming. Whilst Facebook users recognised the potential for online naming and shaming to impede justice, they typically reported that the appropriateness of these online activities depended on the nature of the crime. It was commonly deemed acceptable to name and shame sexual and violent offenders, with participants suggesting that the practice is appropriate if it maintains community awareness and welfare. Further findings illustrated that a lack of faith in the justice system was a major instigator. The findings are discussed through the lens of cultural criminology, in light of the roles of Facebook-users’ emotions, social media as a cultural product, and the mediascape in constructing versions of reality. Overall, this research contributes to increased understanding of digital vigilantism, and highlights the integral role of social media as a cultural product.
Ruth is a University of Tasmania alumni with honours in Criminology. Ruth is currently employed as a Graduate Investigator and Compliance Officer for the Commonwealth Government. Ruth is interested in the nature of crime and criminal justice in a digital society. Her honours research contributes to an understanding of digital vigilantism to help prevent the potential negative impacts of naming and shaming suspected or convicted offenders. Together with Dr Loene M Howes, her honours thesis has since been adapted into a journal article and is due for publication in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology.