Between Justice Seeking and Entertainment: Digital Vigilantism and the Court of Public Opinion
Individuals rely on digital media to denounce others. In some cases this is accepted as an appropriate response to criminal and moral injustices, or other grievances. Yet digital vigilantism may also bring unwarranted harms, for example when reproducing categorical forms of discrimination. Both offence taking and its response are expressed online by gathering and distributing information about targeted individuals.
By seeking their own form of criminal and social justice, digital media users can challenge state legitimacy. Yet digital vigilantism includes shaming and other forms of cultural violence that are not clearly monopolised, or even regulated. While earlier scholarship considers the court of public opinion in terms of journalistic interventions in legal proceedings, this presentation proposes a radical expansion of both the actors involved and the cases explored in the public eye. This amounts to a mainstreaming of the scrutiny and assessment of both public figures and private citizens through an assemblage of actors, devices and platforms. While movements like #metoo bring accountability to long-neglected forms of sexual violence and oppression, these repertoires are also mobilised by alt-right populists for political gain.
This presentation is attentive to the routinisation of mediated scrutiny and denunciation, in order to situate the discourses and practices that gain salience. Focusing on prominent and minor cases in the Anglo-American and Dutch contexts, it suggests that not only are sites like Twitter and Reddit platforms for disputing targets’ reputations but that the legitimacy of these very practices is also frequently disputed.
Daniel Trottier is an Associate Professor at the Department of Media and Communication of Erasmus University Rotterdam. His current research considers the use of digital media for the purposes of scrutiny, denunciation and shaming. In addition to contributing to various EU-funded projects on matters of security, privacy and digital media, Daniel was the PI of a five-year NWO-funded project entitled “Digital Vigilantism: Mapping the terrain and assessing societal impacts." Since September 2020 Daniel coordinates a one-year Master’s specialisation entitled “Digitalisation, Surveillance and Societies.”