Fear The New Public Spheres

Exploring Internet Vigilantism – a positive action of networked social control or a negative case of global ad hoc mob law?

Name Student ID Pigeon Hole Date Module Assignment Supervisor

Marc Schulze 6024442 244 2011-02-07 New Public Spheres Academic Paper Dr. René Gabriëls

Table of Contents


Introduction .................................................................................................................. 2

2. 3. 4.

New Public Spheres ...................................................................................................... 2 Free Speech vs. Privacy ................................................................................................. 5 Panopticism 2.0 ............................................................................................................ 7


Internet Vigilantism ...................................................................................................... 9 5.1 Case: Dog Shit Girl ................................................................................................. 14 5.2 Case: Cat Bin Lady ................................................................................................. 16 5.3 Framework............................................................................................................ 19


Conclusion .................................................................................................................. 21


References .................................................................................................................. 24


1. Introduction
Internet vigilantism is a new and global phenomenon connected to the technological developments that took place the last two or three decades with the invention of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), the distribution of and access to these technologies, the rise of so-called convergent and new media, and with the diffusion of not only these infrastructures, devices, and contents on the one hand, but with multimedia literacy and digital skills on the other. Internet vigilantism is a social phenomenon of users who claim to act civic but might be understood as a global anarchist avant-garde-guerrilla. I refer to Internet vigilantism as social phenomenon realizing public shaming of private people within new public spheres: users observe no-go topics and publish them with information related to the responsible party; they make it a topic among peers who spread it on the Web and relate it to further data found about that party; the discourse or debate increases; the new public sphere pillories the actor. These online actions relate back heavily to the real life. At the example of The Dog Shirt Girl and The Cat Bin Lady, I want to elaborate the question if we can understand Internet vigilantism either in a positive way and as a traditional mechanism of social control or in a negative way and as an example of mob law. In both cases, the answer would include the global reach and the local impact Internet vigilantism has. This makes it an interesting and controversial topic: the pillory, abolished for several reasons in its original way, is available again, it will be hung up ad hoc by those who want to, and it is not the local marketplace – but the global village. To answer the central question, the paper will briefly introduce characteristics of the ICTs to elaborate their impact on the public sphere, as described by Jürgen Habermas (*1929), and to describe its latest transformation towards new public spheres. The next chapter contrasts current discussions on freedom of speech with those on privacy to point out conflicts and contradictions. Before analyzing Internet Vigilantism with the examples mentioned, I will identify important aspects of panopticism – with reference to Michel Foucault (1926-1984). Based on these results, the paper tries to develop a model of Internet Vigilantism, for two reasons: using a model or framework, responsible parties might identify a process of Internet Vigilantism easily to react on it fast; or: knowing a model or framework, Internet vigilantes might intensify their action efficiently to eviscerate another user claimed ‘offender’. I will end with an attempt to answer the central question as accurate as possible, followed by a final conclusion with future implications regarding new public spheres.

2. New Public Spheres
When German philosopher, intellectual and Frankfurt School thinker Jürgen Habermas published “The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere” in 1989, the WWW was not yet accessible and computers or mobile devices were expensive business or exotic

consumer products without a mass-market penetration. His recognized work had to be printed and was ‘shared’ without Facebook, but through discussions among scholars, in newspapers or even broadcasting media. What democratic optimists and critical theorists – now and then – liked was his link between an analysis of the emergence of a publicity in the 18th century as the result of the rise of the bourgeois society and his idea to define an ideal of what he calls public sphere: “The bourgeois public sphere may be conceived above all as the sphere of private people come together as a public” (Habermas, 1989, p.27). The statement reveals a division between private and public realm and presents ‘being bourgeois’ as a status – based on property, not blood – which allows them to switch between realms and likewise constitute the public sphere, meant as political public sphere where citizens assemble to discuss. In a current anthology, Habermas adds:
“By ‘public sphere’ we mean first of all a domain of our social life in which such a thing as public opinion can be formed. Access to the public sphere is open in principle to all citizens.(…) Citizens act as a public when they deal with matters of general interest without being subject to coercion.(…) The term ‘public opinion’ refers to the functions of criticism and control or organized state authority that the public exercises(…)” (Habermas, 2007, p. 103).

He follows a tradition of emancipation and thus the term ‘public sphere’ must not be misunderstood for any topic discussed in public: it is “an attempt to find possibilities through which democracy could be realised”, “a conception of the conditions within which healthy and just political conditions may be realised” and “the arena within which debate occurs” (Hartley, 2002, p.191) with a focus on deliberation and what Habermas later called communicative action. But Habermas himself knew that the ideal public sphere – with reference to the Greek polis metaphor and its ambitious rise in coffee houses, salons, and reading circles – was not realized but instead attacked. On the one hand, there were historical circumstances in that first stage of emergence; on the other hand and analyzing 20th century’s culture industries, Habermas understood that mass-media had a negative influence: the literary public sphere being replaced by a world of culture consumption, an apolitical leisure; a mass-culture tailored for entertainment-driven demands of the less educated; audiences understanding themselves as consumers looking for Zerstreuung instead of being citizens looking for deliberation. As results, the 21st century faces a loss of distinction between public and private – user information is publicized, public actors are presented pseudo-privatized, e.g. with human interest stories on politicians (home story). Likewise, a critical publicity is replaced by manipulation and cannot serve adequately for opinion building as condition for democratic decision making (Habermas, 2007, p. 106; 1989, pp.159-175). Thus, he characterizes modern politics as shame and its public sphere as fake – it is not about criticism on or control over governmental decisions, but about agreement at election times.


What are new public spheres then? After the publication of Habermas’ work, starting 1990/91, the WWW became the most important communication application inside its network infrastructure, the Internet. The parallel development of the infrastructure, of applications and devices was described for instance by media scientist Henry Jenkins with his book on “Convergence Culture” concluding that one guiding principle was that users were demanding for their “right to participate within the culture” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 24). Jenkins described 21st century’s users as participatory culture, based on collective intelligence and media convergence (Jenkins, 2006; Flew, 2008). Thus, one might assume that new information and communication technologies empower users to become full citizens, discussing topics of general interest, forming a public opinion, participating in democratic decision making. Instead, media scholars like José van Dijck point out different user patterns regarding participation 1; she concludes:
“The presumption that new networked technologies lead to enhanced involvement of recipients as well as to active citizenship is rather generalizing. [...] Instead, user agency comprises different levels of participation, varying from 'creators' to 'spectators' and 'inactives'. The same can be said with the notion of 'communities', a term that applies to very different modes of user involvement” (Van Dijck, 2009, pp. 45-46).

Another set of arguments why the public sphere has not been realized according to Habermas’ ideal with the application of ICTs is provided by Goode (2005) stating that reality, opinion-building on all topics of general interest, and decision making in the democratic process is just too complex – citizens ask for a limited participation because of time constraints, because they know they are not the experts, because they want specialist, and prefer the private life over the public one (Goode, 2005). Here, mass mediated communication serves adequately for an audience which is not present in one polis, but absent. ICTs and their application by mass media may re-connect and bridge the physical distance between politicians and private people, depending on the scale of communication. So with reference to scholars like Garnham or Calhom, Goode explains that there is a need for large-scale media systems establishing a shared framework for the dissemination of information enabling citizens to access communities they would not participate in otherwise. But, as mentioned by van Dijck (2009), this participation does not have to be deliberative. Likewise, there is no digital coffee house but “a digital hypermarket” (Goode, 2005, p.108) with the following characteristics determining new public spheres: asymmetrical communication with more downloads than uploads; anarchic dynamics of the digital culture; information overload; and the need for guidance by new gate-keepers.

Van Dijck doubts that the availability of ICTs and networks turns users into active participants and presents e.g. the “1% rule”: user groups include lots of viewers, some editors and a few creators with a 89:10:1 ratio – only one percent is proactive. In addition, Van Dijck differentiates between six groups, sorted from highest to lowest level of participation: from active creators, critics and collectors to joiners, passive spectators and inactives. Thus, participation is “a relative term” (Van Dijck, 2009, p. 44).


3. Free Speech vs. Privacy
Internet vigilantism in new public spheres, online spaces of unrestricted communication, is related to two controversial issues society discusses increasingly since the rise of ICTs and networked communication: freedom of speech on the one hand as power to execute communication, and freedom from other's communication regarding one's own privacy. With reference to John Stuart Mill, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains that free speech is a topic of tension between two competing sides: liberty and authority, in relation to private and public or citizens and their state. Free speech here is characterized as a political prize, not an independent value, and embedded in the “concept of good” (Mill, 2002, chpt.1). Although “we are in fact free to speak as we like” (Mill, 2002, chpt.1), since there is no option for direct speech control or censorship, everyone must be aware of a potential punishment following one’s communication, depending at least on national law and online on international norms and values: “A government cannot make it impossible to say certain things. The only thing it can do is punish people after they have said, written or published” (Mill, 2002, chpt.1). Free speech punishment can be executed by the state, e.g. with a fine or with imprisonment, or with social forces, e.g. with moral outrage as social disapprobation; the underlying concept is to protect rather than to prohibit, but not to prevent. The known threat of sanctions decreases the freedom of speech, but is accepted as alternative to a communicative anarchy and chaos. D. van Mill refers to the Harm Principle (John Stuart Mill), the Offense Principle (Joel Feinberg), and paternalism to discuss under what conditions and to what extent freedom of speech is restricted. Harm Principle: Mill defends free speech from a liberal point claiming that any communication should be allowed to “push our arguments to their logical limits” (Mill, 2002, chtp.2.1). Though, he opts for one exception: harm. “[T]he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others” (Mill, 2002, chpt.2.1). Now, every free speech might harm someone – Mill differentiates between legitimate and illegitimate harm, the latter being a direct and clear violation of rights and leading to free speech limits. This violation must be direct, for instance “when an attack is made against a specific individual or small group of persons” (Mill, 2002, chpt. 2.3). Here, one has to ask to what extent networked communication, and its connection to traditional mass-media, is “direct”. If we identify it likewise, Internet vigilantism appears as legitimate harm if it is social control via deliberative communication, but illegitimate if it appears as mob law characterized by the application of communication as symbolic punishment. Offense Principle: J. Feinberg described the offense principle as reaction to the harm principle: “The basic idea is that the harm principle sets the bar too high and that we should prohibit some forms of expressions because they are very offensive” (Mill, 2002, chpt.3.1).

While the harm principle is high and leads to high penalties, Feinberg connect his principle to low penalties, e.g. for so-called “victimless crimes” (Mill, 2002, chpt.3.1). Several factors should be taken into account when limiting speech based on this concept such as the extent, duration, and social value of the speech, the ease to avoid it or the speakers’ motives, the number of offended people, the intensity of the offense, and public interest. Most interesting when it comes to networked communication and Internet vigilantism is the question if it can be avoided in general while the other factors refer to case-related insights, e.g. conducting a text analysis of online comments to find out motives, compare one case to another to define intensity and so on. Assuming that networked communication is too essential in almost every area of life, it reads as a general restriction towards Internet vigilantism: “[T]he crucial component of the offense principle is the avoidability of the offensive material” (Mill, 2002, chpt.3.3). Mill uses hate speech as example that nazis may meet in private, offensive but avoidable. Though, networked communication constitutes on availability and accessibility of content, not its avoidability. Paternalism: A third approach Mill points out are paternalistic interventions based on the argument that “the agent might not have a full grasp of the consequences of the action involved” (Mill, 2002, chpt.4.3). Paternalism means prevention of free speech depending on the likelihood of personal injuries as consequences. Paternalism must not be understood with censorship; with reference to free speech being embedded in the concept of good, paternalism tries to decrease the probability of bad outcomes and their intensity: “[T]he more certain it becomes, the more legitimate the intervention" (Mill, 2002, chpt.4.3). While the harm principle points out that there are only direct limits of free speech, the offense principle gives reasons for a regulatory frame with reference to the main argument “avoidability”; paternalism does not discuss the value of free speech, but the importance of its consequences. Internet vigilantism does not harm directly, but refers to the avoidability of networked communication; most important it appears as the argument D. van Mill was looking for: “To extend prohibitions on speech and other actions beyond this point requires an argument for a form of legal paternalism that suggests that the state should decide what is acceptable for the safety and moral instruction of citizens” (Mill, 2002, chpt.6).

Privacy, as freedom of speech, is described and discussed as term with two connotations: on the one hand as an interest of the public, on the other hand understood as a right by privates. Likewise, it is related to Aristotle's distinction between private and public, as DeCew points out: “Privacy can refer to a sphere separate from government, a domain inappropriate for governmental interference, forbidden views and knowledge, solitude, or restricted access” (DeCew, 2002, chpt.1). Before analyzing the meaning and value of privacy, as well in connection and/or confrontation with free speech, he lists arguments against an understanding of privacy based on the old school oikos vs. polis approach and the necessity of privacy. First, he mentions that some scholars simply deny the existence of

privacy as right, since it is always defined and determined by the application of other laws. Secondly, he illustrates the argument to reject privacy as economically inefficient. Thirdly, he elaborates privacy not as right, but as concept frame including the following ideas:
› › › › › privacy is the control over information about oneself privacy is a required setting for human dignity and intimacy privacy is the basis for meaningful interpersonal relations privacy is the ability to control others’ informational access to us privacy is a set of norms to control others’ access and enhance our personal expression and choice

Regarding networked communication in general and Internet vigilantism in particular, informational privacy must be characterized as “the right to be let alone” online (DeCew, 2002, chpt.1.1); here it is not the reaction on the mass-mediated invasion of private lives, but on outraged online communication invading one’s life. Informational privacy aims at protecting personal thoughts, sentiments, and emotions, is based on the principle of the “inviolate personality”: “It defines one's essence as human being and it includes individual dignity and integrity, personal autonomy and independence” (DeCew, 2002, chpt.3.2). Online vigilantes aim for the opposite: the destruction of dignity at an individual example. Since privacy is a condition for intimacy and related to feelings like love, friendship, trust or individual characteristics such as self-respect, the inner self or personality and as well the base for establishing interpersonal relations (DeCew, 2002, chpt.3.3, 3.4), the vigilante exposure of all private information must be seen as unavoidable destruction of the inviolate personality, rejecting one’s right for or belief in secrecy, anonymity, and solitude. The dominance of the arguments of free speech – in an international setting without paternalistic interventions, yet – makes the approach of privacy to provide “protection against overreaching social control by others” obsolete (DeCew, 2002, chpt.3.6). If “perfect privacy” once was as state “when one is completely inaccessible to others” (DeCew, 2002, chpt.3.5), Internet vigilantism illustrates the end of privacy due to a new rise of free speech: each user can “access” an individual by talking about him or her online, even without the individual’s knowledge; it can be called the begin of unaware accessibility to others, too.

4. Panopticism 2.0
Internet vigilantism is related to what Michel Foucault has described as Panopticism in his book on Discipline and Punish, a history of the modern penal system. The characteristics of new public spheres, the progression of free speech – whereas speech is not text, but multimedia content such as text, photo, video, graphic or game – and the decline of privacy in general, but in particular with the omnipotent penetration of ICTs in public and private spaces, have lead to an updated version of the “prison”. Without to elaborate the prison concept in detail with respect to Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon as architecture for social

discipline applicable to several institutional buildings, the metaphor must be understood as place where some others are kept away from the majority, us. Today’s prison is a network not restricted by time – with data from yesterday, from now, and forever – or space, with access in almost every situation of our lives. The network is a network of punishment in social context, with changing roles and power in action; these depend on a user’s action and if it fits to law or norms and values – each user may become the prisoner or the controller. Foucault tried to understand power relations, at the example of the 18th century, and how they affected punishment. He could point out that before that time, social control happened for instance by public execution with the mob watching as audience; both torturing and corporal punishment were part of the criminal justice system and often celebrated as a ceremony for the masses with specific rituals and roles. Public executions as spectacles set up by the representative publicity presented a constant legitimization of power and authority of the nobility. Discipline is stated as main element of power and described as techniques to control someone’s performances and to decide over someone’s experience in space and time, e.g. by schedules or at the experience of the plague and the need to inspect, register, quarantine, and purificate private space like houses by public order (Foucault, 1995 [1975], pp.195-200 ). Likewise, the owner of power defines the mass and creates the individual out of it based on hierarchical observation, judgment with regard to norms, and examination. Here, examination means to measure and supervise an individual abnormal because of the fear of the normal mass:
“[A]ll the authorities exercising individual control function according to a double mode; that of binary division and branding (mad/sane; dangerous/harmless; normal/abnormal); and that of coercive assignment, of differential distribution (who he is; where he must be; how he is to be characterized; how a constant surveillance is to be exercised over him in an individual way, etc.)” (Foucault, 1995[1975], p.199).

I characterize today’s communication networks as prison, since it follows Bentham’s idea without the need for a building: the infrastructure of the web allows us to be at center, in the tower, when accessing it; we can access each cell incarcerating another user or at least think so, since we construct our perception on those we access and not those we cannot. Every user is visible, though not every user feels trapped. While in the panopticon, each prisoner is seen without being seen and knows that he is observed, but never knows when (Foucault, 1995 [1975], pp.200-203), online, each user is seen, can see, must know to be observed every time, but forgets or does not care. Contrary to Foucault, the user is not only the object of information, but as well subject of communication. The web is even a better panopticon: the potential number of users to be controlled is massive on a global level, and the needed number of users to operate from the ‘tower’ equals 1; or, with Lyon (1994) who illustrates new modes of surveillance and Big Brother technology, users as operators are even replaced by machines as electronic eyes.

Online vigilantes need these electronic eyes like CCTV in order to capture initial contents of incidents – and they own them, e.g. digital cameras or mobile phones capturing videos. Self-surveillance and monitoring friends without any need is a trend of modern life and contributes to the further development of the web towards the ideal panopticon. Our behavior and our desperate need to present ourselves to everyone – that is Foucault’s plague in today’s context.

5. Internet Vigilantism
Internet vigilantism is a social phenomenon with technological roots, a connection to mass media and online media, with references to law, and based on the emotionalization instead of rationalization of criminal justice (Kohm, 2002; Altheide, 1992). To examine it and its realization in new public spheres and to answer my central question, David Altheide’s Gonzo Justice and Steven A. Kohm’s paper on Mass-mediated humiliation provide relevant insights. While Kohm examines humiliation in broadcasting mass-media, having “emerged in recent years” (Kohm, 2009, p.189), Altheide starts with an explanation of social order as power to define time, place and manner of appropriate behavior:
“Social order is experienced directly in everyday life and indirectly through mass media images and messages. If we take seriously the proposition that experience is communicated and interpreted, then the varieties of such experiences, including mass mediated content and discourse, must be taken into account” (Altheide, 1992, p.69).

He identifies two media functions with respect to criminal justice: being a chronicler of disorder and being the instrument of its repair; regarding the latter, journalists participate in social control and punishment. Gonzo Justice is “the use of extraordinary means to demonstrate social control and moral compliance, often through rule enforcement and punishment designed to stigmatize publicly, e.g. the mass media, and to demonstrate the moral resolve of those mandating the punishment” (Altheide, 1992, p.70) and has emerged “as a new cultural form to address the mass mediated public perception of unsuccessful social control” (Altheide, 1992, p.73). The public shame of private people is used for social control and, Kohm adds, exploited for entertainment and profit. He explains mass-mediated humiliation as trend in justice and culture, and discusses it at with the US crime reality TV show case Dateline NBC: To Catch a Predator. Analyzing how this program cooperates with vigilante online groups and how media direct authorities for entertaining reasons, he finds a “spectacle of humiliating putative pedophiles on network television in partnership with local police agencies and a rag-tag band of internet vigilantes known as Perverted Justice (PJ)” (Kohm, 2009, pp. 188-189). Internet vigilantes pose online as minors to attract potential offenders; they inform families, neighbors and employers, themselves or in cooperation

with media. A minor part of these members, once victims, see naming and shaming as “cathartic experience and a chance to fight back”: “*There+ is nothing finer than the feeling when some bastard who thought he was about to ‘score big’ with a ten-year-old gets the surprise of his life: my face on his monitor, my voice on his phone and, in a figurative sense at least, my shit in his mouth” (Kohm, 2009, p.192). Altheide explains such feelings with the relation of communication and power: “In every social order, persons and agents with access to the major communication outlets have more opportunity to do social control work by interpreting problems within their domain as problems for all” (Altheide, 1992, p.70). Kohm elaborates the connection between crime, its media representation, and the link to emotions to understand the vigilantes’ intent. Crime, once associated in media with fear, has recently been coupled with a greater approach of emotionality analog to the rise of Infotainment, the mixture of information and entertainment as dominant style of current mainstream journalism, as he explains with reference to Peelo (2005, 2006) and Katz (1987): “The turn to ‘infotainment’ (…) powerfully structures public narratives about crime and crime control. Emotionally charged public narratives of crime may in turn contribute to an emotional consensus about crime” (Kohm, 2009, p.189). Since the consensus is created by ‘reality TV’, Kohm recognizes a shift in crime presentation from facts to fiction with the argument of “routine conceptualization of crime presented in media and popular culture” since 1970s (Kohm, 2009, p.193): it is created realistically within a fictional plot line.2 As result, media are subtly directing audiences to emotionally align with survivors and victims; instead of presenting crime and causes, they represent crime results on individualized levels. In doing so, media coverage on crime implies an approach for reaction, to fight back, identified as re-emotionalization: Whilst criminal tradition since enlightment has been asking for a minimizing of emotions and a maximizing of rationality of punishment, today’s mass-media distribute the dissatisfaction with existing methods and support a “reinvigoration of shame in late modern criminal justice” (Kohm, 2009, p.190). On the one hand, this means a return and acceptance of emotions as part of restorative justice, as tactic of punishment to evoke a sense of guilt. Secondly, there are shame penalties 3, the “cruel, expressive, emotive and indeed ostentatious forms of punishment” (Kohm, 2009, p.190). Quoting Altheide, their application can be explained as response to the public discontent with the criminal justice seen as too soft: “The scenario of “out of control” evil calls forth a heroic retort as kind of narrative response in the mediated drama” (Altheide, 1992, p.73). Mass-mediated humiliation including the action of online vigilantes appears as a win-win situation for the state, re-affirming its legitimacy and power, and the media since “‘gonzo’ punishments gain meaning and power by virtue of their affinity for the mass media” (Kohm,
He criticizes the “taken-for-granted ‘reality’ of crime” in mass-media (Kohm, 2009, p.193) which has three messages: a) crime is out of control thus we need law-and-order; b) modern life is risky and danger; and c) the state needs to get tougher and the media need to report stronger. 3 He provides examples from the US criminal justice system making increasingly use of shame penalties like chain gangs, boot camps or embarrassing sentences like a drunk driver must place a placard on his car alerting the public, an infantile acting probationer must wear a diaper (Kohm, 2009, p.190).


2009, p.191). Though, shame penalties as public exposure are disproportionate due to mass-media coverage itself and likewise, here at the example of cable network TV shows and citing Presdee (2000), unveil a doubtful “celebration of cruelty, hurt and humiliation” (Kohm, 2009, p.191) as latest trend in popular culture for entertaining reasons4:
“[The] emergence of humiliation as an entertaining commodity is the corollary of the civilizing process and the drive toward greater constraints on social behavior. Reality TV and mass-mediated forms of hurt and humiliation stands as ‘a bridge to a displaced world of irrationality and change where our subjectivity runs riot’” (Kohm, 2009, p.191).

In such a world, mass-media humiliation with shame penalties may be understood as an execution of extra-legal sanctions occurring mass-mediated: Kohm identifies “the rise of a new culture of control” (Kohm, 2009, p.193) at the end of the 20th century with an increase in law and order approaches as the ground for mass-mediated humiliation with four characteristics – all of them focusing on the audiences’ anger: a) the victims’ harm is at center, not the offenders’ motives; b) the emergence of crime is a political issue; c) offenders are monsters, stigmatized ‘the others’5; d) the public has to call for power and reject ‘soft’ penalties. Kohm connects his finds on crime, media, and the privatization of means of (social) control with current trends in commerce and consumption: “The consumption of any consumer product stands always as a potential social marker or a dividing line between ‘us’ and ‘them’. However, to be on the consuming end of imagery of shame, hurt and humiliation is a profoundly symbolic act, affirming our difference from the object of humiliation” (Kohm, 2009, p.195). Likewise, such spectacles provide forms of guilty pleasure for the one and a sense of relief for the other to not experience the shame oneself. But, as he cites Foucault (1977), there is a tendency that the audience will reject such spectacles, as they did with public carnivalistic rituals like execution or torture: “’*The+ great spectacle of punishment ran the risk of being rejected by the very people to whom it was addressed’” (Kohm, 2009, p.195) 6.

This celebration happened in Germany at the example of the reality TV show “Das Dschungelcamp: Ich bin ein Star – Holt mich hieraus!” hosted by private TV network RTL. Ex-celebrities enter an Australian jungle to ‘survive’ embarrassing tasks, hurt each other emotionally or present a cruelty towards others in group situations. Kohm uses the US blog TMZ.com as example: “Raw footage of celebrities behaving badly is popular, but stories and images of celebrities in trouble with the law have become a staple of TMZ and the celebrity gossip industry in general” (Kohm, 2009, p.191). 5 The representation of offenders in mass media does not fit with their representation in crime; media “solidify the myth of stranger danger” (Kohm, 2009, p.197) and disregard that most offenders are known to victims. The stranger as exception becomes the fictional rule in media for one reason – defining one’s identity in opposition to the offender: “[The] debasement of putative online pedophiles can be actively consumed as marker of one’s social position as a amember of the symbolic groups ‘us’ united in the fight against ‘them’ – the perverts and pedophiles that have over-run cyberspace” (Kohm, 2009, p.197). 6 Humiliating TV formats already face a process of rejection from a critical target group: advertisers. Although “Das Dschungelcamp“had highest audience ratings (best: 50,3% of all viewers between 14 and 49 yrs or 5,36 million viewers), they recorded a loss in advertising revenues. No premium brand wanted to place its products or services presented the environment of humiliation, hurt, cruelty.


In fact, an audience rejecting this kind of social control programs is not the biggest risk one may assume: the Catch a Predator case was discussed controversially for several reasons like a) media acting as agents provocateurs or using vigilante online groups to do so; b) an unethical live coverage which Kohm calls ‘sting operations’ confronting potential offenders with a team of media and authorities – with media in charge and the authorities in standby position; c) several cases of TV producers instructing the local police 7; d) the disruptive nature of images of humiliation as potential flipside due to cultural and moral limits; and e) the image the state creates of its own inability when making use of private media and vigilante online groups: “*It] exposes the limits of the criminal justice state and tends to subvert the authority these state agencies are attempting to reinvigorate through public rituals of humiliation” (Kohm, 2009, p.199). While mass-mediated humiliation via broadcasting media explain the state’s cooperation with such programs with a type of fear based “on the deep feeling of impotence – an inability to act adequately to stave off the dangers thought to plague modern life” (Kohm, 2009, p.200), today’s online users do not feel impotent, but omnipotent. They “fight back” just as single actors like the Catch a Predator TV host did; they react on their deeper anxieties with a “mediated ritual of exclusion” (Kohm, 2009, p.200):
“The fluid character of online social identities opens up vast spaces to explore emotions, behaviors and sexualities at the margins of social acceptability. In this way, life online becomes akin of fantasy and social interactions a quagmire of uncertainty where identities are as likely to be make believes as real", (Kohm, 2009, p.200).

Kohm’s concluding question was whether or not “audiences might ultimately reject the carnival of humiliation set in motion by the program [Catch a Predator]”, (Kohm, 2009, p.200). Instead, the current discussion on Internet vigilantism leads to an answer unexpected: the mass-mediated and likewise institutionalized humiliation has become democratized towards a user-generated carnival humiliation in between social control and mob law. Whilst Habermas criticized that broadcasting audiences “Don’t talk back!”, interactive networked ICTs empower users “to fight back”. Although the US TV show concept failed, the implications that “mass-mediated humiliation may contain the seeds of its own destruction”, (Kohm, 2009, p.201) still has to be verified or falsified at the example of new media such as the WWW and its diverse communication channels. The same is true for the implication that mass-mediated humiliation exposes the state’s weakness, as Kohm assumes in opposition to Altheide's concept of ‘gonzo justice’ which was suggesting that “mediated spectacles of ‘gonzo’-style punishment are orchestrated to shore up faith in the
Kohm mentions cases like TV show staff advising the police on tactics in a scene where a potential offender gets tasered or a lawsuit from a sister of a man tagged offender who committed suicide at a sting operation. While most scholars have researched on the role of embedded journalists in warfare, here one might have a deeper look on embedded authorities in the culture industry. Kohm tells one potential reason: Mass-mediated humiliation, connected with vigilante online groups, represent an initial investment in investigation efforts the state cannot provide.


institutions of criminal justice” (Kohm, 2009, p.201). Kohm insists on the thesis that massmediated humiliation is a neo-liberal failure of the nation state: “Public displays of humiliation as social control and entertainment may ultimately be read by audiences as a terrifying failure of public criminal justice” (Kohm, 2009, p.201-202). If vigilantism has failed in broadcasting media due to the connection to entertainment, does it fail in the online media, too? Having a look at web sources and search engines to find significant cases of Internet vigilantism, I get to know two major examples with a broad online and offline coverage – one from 2005, from South Korea, the other from 2010, from UK. I will discuss the first case under the term “Dog Shit Girl”, while the latter has become known with the search term “Cat Bin Lady”. Both wordings – which one can refer to as online stigma or, without connotation and in nerd lingo, a web meme – already include the offenders’ stories: the “Dog Shit Girl” is a Korean student whose lapdog took a shit in the subway which she then refused to clean up while the “Cat Bin Lady” on the other hand is a 45 years old British woman who saw a cat next to a bin, played with it, put it in the bin, to then walk away immediately. Both stories have several points in common: The offenders presented a performance in a space – public transportation system, public street – they had not experienced as public or being under public surveillance. Both got captured digitally and the contents were published online immediately. The offenders’ performances referred to general interests at first sight – hygiene or as well accountability, and animal protection – and thus evoked the public’s intent for social control in the particular situation that one had left the norm. But, in both cases, the general interest intent can be characterized as alibi since users did not discuss the topic, but their communication functioned as punishment and humiliation targeted at one individual. Both stories’ included the (passive and/or unwanted) participation of an animal, associated with being helpless or unguilty, and likewise it was predictable that both caused outraged reactions in online and traditional media; with real-life consequences8. These cases unveil an online connection between social control, as the Internet vigilantes' intent, and mob law, as the parallel online execution of power – alienating an offender from the online and offline community via the production, distribution, and consumption of unrestricted and unregulated online communication, provocating mainstream coverage among other reactions.

In addition, both are female. Since I cannot evaluate all cases of Internet vigilantism here, the offenders’ sex does not have any significance for this paper.



Case: Dog Shit Girl

This South Korean student’s story begins on 5th June 2005 and would not have been of interest one or two decades ago, when the penetration of computers and mobile devices, such as digital cameras or smartphones, was still low: nobody would have cared, except for those who experienced an incident in front of them. Her story would have ended in the subway. Not so in 2005, after the emergence of Web 2.0, and not in South Korea, a technology-leading nation with wide-spread multimedia literacy, where users were empowered to access communication networks and care about that topic: dog shit.

Photo taken from “The Dog Shit Girl”, South Korea, 2005.

Likewise, immediately after the incident, the girl’s story got published online because of (at least) four reasons one can identify: a) commuters owned digital cameras, mobile phones and other devices with an integrated camera to take pictures instantly – these users did not tell a story, but showed to all what was visible for some; b) pictures were taken from several perspectives, they can be understood as media fragments or ‘proof’ for a whole story perceived in the same way from different point of views constituting a fake-reality which leaves out the offender’s eye; c) the student reacted spontaneously and inadequately on the others’ call-for-action by pointing out her middle finger instead of cleaning or at least apologizing as an “eye witness” reported online; d) an old man working for the subway had to clean the floor and was photographed while doing so, too.


Taking that into account, the pictures had an implicit outrage potential for bloggers and they were apparently providing evidence; while the outrage led to the tagging – she was called gae-ttong-nyue, Korean for dog shit or poop girl – the content allowed a targeting which started with the publication of the picture on the then-popular South Korean Yahoo! Pictures web site. With this content, the girl was identified after several days by a mass of vigilante online users. One of their main tasks in the process of both targeting and tagging, or: naming and shaming, was the exposure of personal information they had searched and found online to better ‘profile’ her, to make her visible for everyone else in an iterative way. Iterative, since every new information released would allow for further investigation providing new information for further investigations and so on. Comparing such an online ‘search’ rolled out by vigilantes with the investigation local authorities conduct, there is one big difference to mention: official investigations are, in general and depending on the criminal justice system, kept secret; all information or names will neither be released to the public, nor to the media – while Internet vigilantes use the exposure as punishment. The task is to decrease the offender’s privacy proactively in order to increase the vigilantes’ freedom of speech for the objective to violate the offender’s personality irreversibly. In addition, while authorities would address an offender in the first place, her as subject of investigation, Internet vigilantes address everyone else to provide and share information; the offender is constructed as object of interest by an investigating mass, a power without legitimacy. Two example pages9, still online, tell her story and show her picture – and illustrate how new public spheres depend on and develop with regard to the extraordinary amount of digital data that becomes part of a new public record, written by individuals:
"Dog Poop Girl" aka Dog dung girl, aka Dog shit girl, aka Dog poop girl, aka Dog Excrement girl aka ??? (Korean pronounced gae-ttong-nyeo) are some of the English-translated names, given by South Korean bloggers, of a woman who refused to clean up when her dog defecated on the floor of a Seoul Metropolitan Subway car” (FamousPictures.org) “On a merry day of June '05, the woman got onto the train with her dog (Who the fuck let the dog in in the first place?), the dog then took a nice steaming dump on the train floor. Her fellow train riders proceeded to bitch about it and a woman gave her a tissue demanding she clean it. Queen Bitch took the tissue and cleaned her dog saying "You said "it", I thought you meant lassie", she then got off at the next station, probably to go join a bunch of her giggling friends instead of making sammiches. A wise bystander took pictures for her local scatophilia club so her fellow members can rub off to the aforementioned pictures.” (EncyclopediaDramatica.com).

Soon after several users – not all vigilantes – had reported online about the topic, South Korean traditional or mainstream media reported, too; some stated that the girl was asked to leave university as a real life consequence of the mass-mediated public humiliation rolled out online initially and joint offline later on. But: after a first series of articles putting the

“Encyclopedia Dramatica” is an ironic and sarchastic Wikipedia clone, “Famous Pictures” is a Wikipedia clone for web-worthy pictures. 15

incident in focus, several editorials were published discussing the negative side of Internet vigilantism itself. Tenor: the incident was condemned as Internet witch-hunt and the case illustrated as “cyber-posse, tracking down norm violators and branding them with digital Scarlet Letters”(KNU Times, 2006)10. Not only newspaper editors, but online users as well took the case to discuss the topic of privacy at the question whether or not a) a user may upload such a picture and b) if he does, whether or not he must obscure the offender’s face. The discussion took the ICTs’ and network’s characteristic into account that it is easy to publish content online – you do it once – but hard to censor online content – once published, it is shared. Likewise I expect, but cannot prove, that even the positive discussion in the public sphere on that topic both lead to an increase (reader searching for the topic online, likewise keeping it ‘up-to-date’ with regard to the search engines’ logics) and decrease (users not searching for the topic or investigation in the incident anymore, since they changed their minds) of online communication on that topic. These discussions did not rest until the Dog Shit Girl herself reacted. She posted an apology, written by her with a picture of the dog, on a popular South Korean blog:
“I know I was wrong, but you guys are so harsh. I’m regret it, but I was so embarrassed so I just wanted to leave there. I was very irritable because many people looked at me and pushed me to clean the poop. Anyhow, I’m sorry. But, if you keep putting me down on the Internet I will sue all the people and at the worst I will commit suicide. So please don’t do that anymore.” (Famouspictures.org)


Case: Cat Bin Lady

Mary Bale will never forget the evening of the 21st of August 2010. That was, when she – the Cat Bin Lady – did something wrong: “It was a split second of misjudgment that has got completely out of control”, she told the BBC afterwards. After a CCTV video of her was uploaded to YouTube; after some hundred thousand users had seen and commented this 87 seconds clip, had linked to and blogged about it, shared it on social networking sites; after they had set up user groups on Facebook demanding her death; and after aggressive communication communities such like 4Chan.org had identified her – within 24 hours. Her “misjudgment”: she had dumped a cat in a bin. One has to mention that the cat is called Lola and four years old; that it had to wait/suffer for 15 hours; and that it has a lobby, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal (RSCPA), while Mrs. Bale only had the potential to become the next Internet vigilantes’ victim.


Also, the German culture radio “DeutschlandRadio Kultur” honored this “the sad icone of cyber-mobbing” with a 53 minutes composition on public denunciation and private alienization, mixing web contents with scripts by F. Dostojewskijs (http://www.dradio.de/dkultur/sendungen/klangkunst/1113753). 16

She did, but different from the Dog Shit Girl. First, she was traced and identified faster. Secondly, this was caused of the reach and progression of ICTs, including both access to networks of communication for users and the availability of devices – be it consumers’ smartphones, be it a public or private owned surveillance camera – capturing content every time and everywhere. A third reason was that Internet vigilantes were acting globally, while in the first case it were South Korean bloggers, joint by international online users later on. Fourthly, the world-wide rapid response reaction was enabled by content distribution on global platforms such as YouTube (videos), Facebook (sharing content mutually) or Twitter (sharing comments and links to content ad hoc). And finally, sharing as habit has become naturalized, as the cat owner’s wife told BBC:
“I can't believe the reaction to the story(…). I only posted it [the private CCTV video clip] on Facebook because I wanted to see who she was” (BBC, 2010).

CCCTV footage from “The Cat Bin Lady”, 2010, UK

She was identified fast and the story was reported by international, traditional news media not only in UK. Some reasons for the realization of this online sting operation and the offline coverage may be case-related: English as dominant web language compared to Korean; a video instead of a picture; an action (put in bin) compared to an accident (dog shits). Another, more general catalysator was the progression of ICTs and the accessibility of networks. It led to a more intense outrage since it was realized in a shorter amount of time on the one hand and since traditional media reported on it faster, too, on the other hand. The latter may be caused by the integration of the WWW and its popular channels like Facebook and YouTube into the editorial process of gate keeping, in brief: even today’s print

journalists ‘surf’ through the web and receive an e-mails with a “Cat Bin Lady” viral video. The former reason – the realization of such a sting operation in a short amount of time – may be related to the freedom/privacy issue: In the last five years, between dog shit and cat bin, several social media networking sites have launched and asked their users to share private data and use additional online services which base upon the digitalization and availability of both private and public contents – just to name Google’s Street View as example. With increasing popularity of social networks and content services, it is easier than ever before to search for private information (by users/as part of the public record) and harder than ever before to keep content private. Likewise, Internet vigilantes published information like Mrs. Bale’s address or her employer’s phone number and she had to be placed under police protection because of serious death threats. The Cat Bin Lady case illustrates how difficult it is to just criticize Internet vigilantes for their behavior; it is necessary to ask for users’ accountability, too, releasing content about themselves and/or about others without privacy protection; and one needs to ask if there is a difference between what Internet vigilantes compared to traditional media, for instance when having a look at UK boulevard tabloids such as The Sun headlining their article on Mrs. Bale: “Cruel Cat Woman Named and Shamed” (The Sun, 2010). Finally, after her identity was released and she was humiliated by mass-media, Mrs. Bale had to attend court and admitted her charge of causing “unnecessary suffering to an animal”, was fined £250 and had to pay a victim surcharge and costs, about £1,450. In her decision, the judge referred to Mrs. Bale’s behavior regarding the incident and to the mass-mediated punishment as reason why the fine was that ‘low’ compared to the maximum penalty – £20,000 or six months in prison:
“It clearly was an irrational and impulsive act that you could not explain and in interview you said that you were mortified. I accept that your remorse is genuine (…). The media interest in this case has resulted in you being vilified in some quarters and I have taken that into account also." (The Guardian, 2010).

In addition, she was banned from keeping/owning animals for five years and she went through a period of depression and quit her job “unable to face her colleagues again” (TheGuardian). The most popular blog reporting on social media topics, Mashable.com, took her case to elaborate the reasons why the misjudgment of a single moment may lead to never-ending consequences in real life, headlined “The Ballad of Cat Bin Lady: The Internet’s Latest Viral Villain”. The author explained Internet vigilantism with a simple formal: “Stupid, petty crime + Bizarre Circumstances = Public Dismemberment/Viral Gold” (Mashable, 2010):
“What Bale did wasn’t romantic or daring in any way. It was just kind of… well, mean. And – lest we forget – utterly bizarre. And there’s the rub. (…) Now, do Bale’s actions warrant such a complete and utter character assassination? According to the web, hell yeah” (Mashable, 2010).




Comparing the two cases, they have several stages or levels in common with which Internet vigilantism can be described inside a repeatable framework. The reason to do so is that with the application of a framework, responsible parties can identify the phenomenon faster and may react on it at several critical points to either stop the outrage or moderate it in accordance with national law or international norms (or: Internet vigilantes may use it). Altheide had identified seven features on Gonzo Justice the framework takes into account: the incident must be an extraordinary act; it must include a moral dimension; there must be an initial reaction on it by individuals; it must be expressive and evocative; it is presented and can be interpreted as example for others; the audience is familiar with the problem or shares a context of experience; and reports come along without contrary or challenging statements (Altheide, 1992, pp.73-74).

Level 1 Real Life Action

Level 2 Online Content, Discussions, and Investigations

Level 3 Online Publification, Offline Coverage

Level 4 Crossmedia Stigmatization, Real Life Confrontation

Level 5 Crossmedia Apologies, Real Life Consequences

Level 1: Real Life Action Internet vigilantism starts offline in real life with a real incident. While several actions we perform either in public or even in private life would not have been of interest some years ago for a broad mass, today all topics – including all individuals and their actions – may be communicated since they are potentially surveilled constantly. To Do: create an awareness of surveillance, understand that every action is “seen” and may lead to consequences.

Level 2: Online Content, Online Discussions, and Online Investigations Everything we do is likely to be digitalized and published online. The online world sucks in real life and users feed it, too. The question is: what content will be uploaded and what will be watched, too – since not all online contents will lead to outrage discussions. One reason for the selection by Internet vigilantes is emotion; as described above, the participation of either animals or children might be a trigger. This content serves as proof for the outrage. If it does not include the offender’s identity, the discussion is enriched by new contents found in further online investigations.

To Do: create a code of conduct regarding online communication, employ moderators in mass-communication channels, redefine privacy settings regarding all individual contents published online and define restrictions for the private violation of copyright of one’s own content published by others.

Level 3: Online Publification and Offline Coverage Active online users like bloggers for instance use the online content and aggregate the discussion and the investigation as soon as the topic becomes popular; the popularity is caused by Internet vigilantes spreading the story while investigating. Likewise, we can understand the second level as unedited and the third level as edited publification of the incident and the individual. While the first is and often times stays part of the online cacophony of billions of comments released and saved there, the latter has the potential to be recognized by traditional news media. To Do: define moral standards for bloggers comparable to those of journalists as fourth estate; make traditional journalists understand that the online popularity of a topic must not be translated into accordant offline coverage.

Level 4: Crossmedia Stigmatization and Real Life Confrontation If the online story has been covered by traditional media, too, it leads to a multiplier effect: As soon as the online story is broadcasted or published in real life, users will share it online as well and likewise contribute to the dissemination of private information publicized by an apparently official source legitimizing this behavior. While before, there was only a small group of online vigilantes, now every use may potentially engage in this sting operation gone wild: since both ‘worlds’ – online and offline – join the naming and shaming as a stigmatization based on symbolic communication, it can be described as crossmedia act. While the online coverage, at least for some users without access to the WWW, can still be avoided, the offline coverage cannot. Likewise, if there is a crossmedia stigmatization from all media channels, the confrontation in real life is either about to begin or to increase, e.g. since mainstream journalists appear at the scene, try to get interviews and so on. To Do: traditional media need to redefine their standards regarding gate keeping and agenda setting; they have to understand and point out differences when it comes to news values. The criminal justice system might in addition redefine its restrictions and create something comparable to a “gagging order” with regard to individual topics, instead of state-security. This cannot be realized online without either automatic censorship (e.g. always updated blacklist with words and names) or masses of authorized users looking for these contents to delete them (‘Human Flesh Search Engines’); likewise, this recommendation can only be realized – without to censor freedom of speech drastically – within the traditional media to decrease the probability of crossmedia stigmatization and confrontation.

Level 5: Crossmedia Apologies and/or Real Life Consequences If both the online vigilantes and traditional media have reported on an incident in the way described above, there are at least two options with which an ‘offender’ – now rather a ‘victim’ – can exit the Internet witch hunt: On the one hand, an apology meant as declaration of one’s guilt helps to stop the discussion; as Altheide mentioned, vigilante communication works best if there are no contrary opinions. An apology destroys the opinion phalanx a majority has set up. On the other hand, the second option is that offenders have to face real life consequences from the day their identity is released; single online users or traditional media recipients or lobby groups interact with ask local authorities to put charges on the offender. While mass-mediated humiliation is realized directly through a cooperation of media and authorities, online Internet vigilantism focuses on the online execution of power as punishment and only in some cases leads to real punishment with reference to criminal justice in real life. But: here as well, the moment of apology is crucial – Mrs. Bale for instance was fined with a low sentence due to her apology in traditional media in advance. To Do: One has to take into account that the third exit option is committing suicide; this paper rejects this option as alternative. Likewise, if freedom of speech is not restricted and Internet vigilantism not regulated, there is at least a need to create a legitimate online pillory which is state-run and does not focus on the users punishment by communication, but allows potential offenders to a) declare their point of view and b) to apologize. In addition, such a forum – organized by moderators – might add voices from responsible parties (here: the old man who had to clean the subway, the owner of the cat) and aggregate the outcome of vigilante discussions without to imitate their language. In addition, the criminal justice system has be responsible for supervision: Likewise, an ‘online attorney’ can decide whether or not an incident discussed by vigilantes and aggregated on such an official online pillory will lead to charges; as well, the state may decide if a discussion goes too far and stop it or at least address the online vigilantes with the consequences of punishment for themselves.

6. Conclusion
“My shit in his mouth” – that is what one online vigilante reported as motive and he was pretty honest with that. While examining the topic and trying to answer the question if we have to fear new public spheres and new forms of either social control or mob law, I found out that Internet vigilantism is a new phenomenon almost unknown to broad masses unless they experience it as ‘victim’ – so-called real life offender – or engage with it as contributor. Contributing to an online hunt or becoming stigmatized online is easier than ever before due to several reasons such as a) the shift from the ideal public sphere to doubtful new

public spheres as digital hypermarket based on the consumption of communication which is legitimizing the users’ wish to discuss any topic, even those without general interest, as publicly as they want; b) the increase of unavoidable free speech published online without users’ reflection on its restrictions, namely the harm principle, the offense principle, and paternalism; c) the shift of privacy from a right to an option depending on settings or even the end of privacy due to the death of the “inviolate personality” and the termination of “inaccessibility”; d) the characteristic of networked communication as a architecture for social control allowing surveillance and panopticism on a global level with minimal efforts. With the analysis of Gonzo Justice and Mass-mediated Humiliation, I tried to show how media interacted with the criminal justice system and to what extent embarrassing penalties and emotional punishment have become a counter-trend to the tradition of rationalization. While, compared with Internet vigilantism, humiliating TV formats in mainstream media mix their attempt for execute social control with an underlying strategy of entertainment, the need for profit-making, and as scripted reality reinforcing crime myths, Internet vigilantism is real and not necessarily entertaining. Another difference is that media interact with authorities while Internet vigilantism act as authorities – without legitimization and often times outside their (national) legal frame. The consequences, presented at the example cases of the Dog Shit Girl and the Cat Bin Lady, reach from simple shame to total destruction of a subject, starting online and ending offline as soon as real life institutions – the media, the authorities – react. Likewise, I state Internet vigilantism is initially meant and intended as social control, but develops towards mob law whereas the mob has two meanings: it can be a massive online user group of vigilantes destroying a person’s reputation; or a real mob showing up in front of your house after the address has been released with a link to Google Streetview. So: yes, it is mob law and no, the intent for social control is not a legitimization, but an argument based on free speech understood as unrestricted and unregulated communication. Synthesizing, one can characterize Internet vigilantism as an anti-social and mob-controlled execution since the final intent is dismemberment.

The cases and the framework I provided as template to identify and react on Internet vigilantism, leads to the following implications: First, there is a need for interventions since global users cannot respect all nations’ law and all cultures’ norms and values, but will react on all nations’ and all cultures’ users as potential victims if they have offended someone with their ‘abnormal’ behavior. ‘Abnormal’, though, is a standard in a diverse global world. This in mind, I opt for two models, not for an immediate implementation but rather at input for discussion since they are less a solution and more of a controversial compromise.


We need Human Flesh Search Engines: While in their paper on “Internet Development, Censorship, and Cyber Crimes in China”, Liang and Lu present how a communist regimes – and as well the biggest Internet user of the world – make use of massive and stateorganized online user groups execution the identity and participating in the exposure on an individual behaving abnormal11, I recommend this idea not as a means of censorship, but suggest theses authorized users to act as agents of preventive online reputation management in the interest of every citizen and consumer. Likewise, this topic has to be discussed on the one hand by providers of networked communication; on the other hand, members of parliament and the public sphere need to debate and provide answers meant as law and/or regulations.

We need Self-Paternalism as embodied concept: Every user has an understanding of what information he or she wants to be kept private; in contrast, we use networks and application to share private content since we guess it only appears on our “friends’” screen. Taking into account that most content shared online is of no interest for online vigilantes since it is not controversial, self-paternalism refers to information and behavior that is potentially offensive to others. It is an ongoing self-restriction due to the knowledge of omnipotent surveillance, capturing, digitalizing, and publishing contents worldwide. Now, most books and articles would use the Big Brother metaphor to criticize surveillance; I try to mention Pope Benedict XVI’s interpretation of God12 as alternative bro’, as rolled out in the encyclical letter “Deus Caritas Est” (2005) characterizing God not as punitive, but loving instance. In addition, Benedict will add on June 5, 2011, in his pre-released message for the 45th World Communications Day:
“In the digital age too, everyone is confronted by the need for authenticity and reflection. Besides, the dynamic inherent in the social networks demonstrates that a person is always involved in what he or she communicates. When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals. It follows that there exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others” (Pope Benedict VXI, 2011).

At the Chinese example, ‘abnormal‘ content is defined not only as contrary to basic principles of the constitution, laws, and regulations but as well all information that subverts the regime, the state, the party, or socialism . In addition, with regard to Internet vigilantism, ‘abnormal’ is all content that “incites ethnic hostility or racial discrimination”, “spreads rumors or disrupts social order”, “investigates others to commit offences” or “publicly insults or defames others” (Liang & Lu, 2010, p.106). 12 The proverb I refer to – “Denn der Weg eines jeden liegt offen vor den Augen des Herrn, / er achtet auf alle seine Pfade“ (Die Bibel, Buch der Sprichwörter, 5,21) – describes omnipotence of God with regard to surveillance – not as electronic, but metaphysical eye.


7. References Books
Flew, T. (2008). New media : an introduction (3rd ed.). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press Foucault, M. (1995 [1975]). Panopticism. In: Discipline & Punish : The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books Goode, L. (2005). Mediations: From the Coffee House to the Internet Café. In L. Goode, Jürgen Habermas. Democracy and the Public Sphere. London: Pluto Press. Habermas, J. (1989). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Habermas, J. (2007). The Public Sphere. In R.E. Goodin, Ph. Pettit, Contemporary Political Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell. Hartley, J (2002).Communication, Cultural and Media Studies: The Key Concepts, 3rd Ed, London: Routledge. Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture : Where Old and New Media Collide. New York and London: New York University Press Lyon, D. (1994). From Big Brother to the Electronic Panopticon. In: The Electronic Eye: The Rise of the Surveillance Society. University of Minnesota Press

Altheide, D. (1992). Gonzo Justice. In: Symbolic Interaction; 15 (1):69-86

DeCew, J.(2002). Privacy. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Kohm, S. (2009). Naming, shaming and criminal justice: Mass-mediated humiliation as entertainment and punishment. In: Crime, Media, Culture; (5)2: 188-205,

Liang, B. & Lu, H. (2010). Internet Development, Censorship, and Cyber Crimes in China. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice. Vol. 26 (1): 103-120,

Mill, D. van (2002). Freedom of Speech. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Van Dijck, J. (2009). Users like you? Theorizing agency in user-generated content. Media, Culture & Society, SAGE Publications,


Online Sources
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Wikipedia on Human Flesh Search Enginges; accessed on 2011-01-25:

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http://encyclopediadramatica.com/Dog-shit-girl http://www.famouspictures.org/index.php?title=Dog_Poop_Girl http://www.dradio.de/dkultur/sendungen/klangkunst/1113753 http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/dog-poo-girl# http://edition.cnn.com/2007/TECH/06/04/flashmob.lynchmob/ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-coventry-warwickshire-11087061 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/19/cat-bin-woman-mary-bale http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-coventry-warwickshire-11077958 http://mashable.com/2010/08/26/cat-bin-lad/ http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3109791/Cruel-cat-woman-named-and-shamed.html http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/7963804/Cat-put-in-wheelie-bin-Death-to-Mary-Bale-Facebook-page-takendown.html

TV show Web sites: RTL Dschungelcamp (RTL site, own site); all accessed on 2011-01-29:
http://www.rtl.de/cms/unterhaltung/ich-bin-ein-star.html, http://www.dschungel-camp.com.

Articles / critical and reflexive media coverage on the show; all accessed on 2011-01-29:
http://www.dwdl.de/story/29799/dschungel_die_mr_vom_unterschichtenfernsehen, http://www.zeit.de/2011/04/Dschungelcamp, http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/tv/0,1518,740704,00.html, http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/tv/0,1518,742438,00.html, http://www.stern.de/kultur/tv/plaedoyer-fuers-dschungelcamp-guck-nicht-mit-den-schmuddelkindern-1647752.html http://www.shortnews.de/id/873463/Einschaltquote-Dschungelcamp-knackt-die-50-Prozent-Marke, http://www.horizont.net/aktuell/medien/pages/protected/Werbeflaute-im-Dschungelcamp-Warum-viele-Kunden-dieEkel-Show-links-liegen-lassen_97730.html, http://www.wuv.de/nachrichten/medien/rtl_dschungelcamp_macht_trotz_rekordquote_werbeminus

TV show Web sites: Catch a Predator; accessed on 2011-01-29:

Perverted Justice Web site; accessed on 2011-01-29:

Articles / critical and reflexive media coverage on show and PJ; accessed on 2011-01-29:
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/showtracker/2008/06/nbc-resolves-la.html, http://www.cjr.org/feature/the_shame_game.php?page=1, http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/07/24/us-usa-nbc-lawsuit-idUSN2334094320070724, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-500486_162-1290135-500486.html

Pope Benedict XVI (2011), Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age; Message of His Holiness for the 45th World Communications Day (June 5, 2011; released January 24, 2011); accessed on 2011-02-02

Web site of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; accessed on 2011-02-02


Further Reading
Books Peelo, M. (2005). Crime and the Media: Public Narratives and Private Consumption. In: M. Peelo and K. Soothill (eds) Questioning Crime and Criminology, pp. 20-36. Portland, OR: Wilian. Presdee, M. (2000). Cultural Criminology and the Carnival of Crime. Ney York. Routledge Sunstein, C.R. (1995). Discrimination and Selectivity: Hard Cases, Espescially Cross-burning and Hate Speech. In: C. Sunstein, Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech. Free Press. Journals Brugger, W. (2003) The Treatment of Hate Speech in German Constitutional Law, German Law Journal,

Castells, M. (2008). The New Public Sphere: Global Society, Communication Networks, and Global Governance. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 616 (1): 78-93

Gerhards, J. & Schäfer, M. (2010). Is the Internet a Better Public Sphere? Comparing Old and New Media in Germany and the US. In: New Media & Society 12(1): 143-160.

Haupt, C. E. (2005). “Regulating Hate Speech – Damned If You Do and Damned If You Don’t: Lessons Learned from Comparing the German and U.S. Approaches”, Boston University International Law Journal, v.23 (2005), pp. 299-335. Katz, J. (1987). What Makes Crime “News”? In: Media, Culture and Society. 9: 47-75 Owen, T. (2007). Culture of Crime Control: Through a Post-Foucauldian Lens, The Internet Journal of Criminology,

Peelo, M. (2005). Framing Homicide Narratives in Newspapers: Mediated Witness and the Construction of Virtual Victimhood. In: Crime, Media, Culture; 2(2): 159-175 Online Sources Pope Benedict XVI (2005), Deus Caritas Est; Encyclical Letter; accessed on 2011-02-02