The hacktivist group, Anonymous, is known for vigilante justice—or hooliganism, depending on who you ask—but its role in the enormous public backlash to Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons’ tragic death last week is not so black and white. When Amanda Todd took her own life after merciless cyber-bullying last year, Anonymous implicated B.C. resident Kody Maxson — later widely reported to be the wrong man. Maxson says he received over 50 death threats after the hacktivist group spread his name around the web, accusing him of tormenting Todd.
This time around, however, Anonymous appears more strategic, probably because whomever wears the mask in Nova Scotia is not the same person(s) who slandered Maxson in British Columbia. This Anonymous hasn’t used vigilante justice to expose Parsons’ alleged rapists. It’s used the threat of vigilante justice to move the authorities to action. If the RCMP doesn’t act fast, in other words, Anonymous claims it will release the names of Parsons’ alleged rapists. [Editor's note: RCMP have since announced that they have reopened their investigation.] The group says it has obtained an actual confession from one of the boys involved in the alleged rape. Excerpts from the group’s most recent statement, below:
A 17-year-old girl killed herself because the police failed to do their jobs…
We do not seek vigilante justice. If those who we believe are guilty are exonerated in a court of law, Anonymous will disappear from Nova Scotia.
Is it necessary for Anonymous to be involved in this case? Yes. For a moment lets set aside the theatrics, the masks and the labels. We are group of concerned citizens that have recognized an injustice in the system. We have taken it upon ourselves to point out that injustice to the public and we are asking the police to correct their incompetent handling of this case–a young girl has already died from it.
Robin Hood doesn’t usually work with the Sheriff of Nottingham. This is, in my view, a much more sophisticated, socially conscious, breed of Anonymous. Not everyone would agree, however. This afternoon I heard from a Halifax man in his twenties who is a friend of one of Parsons’ alleged rapists. He wishes to remain anonymous (in the traditional sense of the word). He believes Anonymous is doing “the right thing, the wrong way.” He is concerned that innocent people will be implicated in the group’s search for justice. “This is the problem with people taking it into their own hands,” he says. “Now their [those implicated] lives are at risk.” He says that his friend received threats prior to Anonymous’ public statements, “but nothing in comparison to now.” It hasn’t been easy for him, either: He’s received emails from friends and acquaintances on Facebook suggesting he is “defending rapists.” He even went so far as to compare the actions of Anonymous to cyber-bullying itself.
Whatever your thoughts on cyber vigilantism, there is no question that the actions of the person(s) behind Anonymous in this particular case has jump-started a remarkably stalled justice system. The RCMP is of course propelled to act because of public outrage, but the hacktivists’ blackmailing has given them a firm deadline. When tragedies like these occur, people want answers, and they want them fast. Right or wrong, Anonymous delivers.