The Internet. Possibly one of the greatest social experiments in the history of our civilization. The Internet is many things: a network of information. A community of people. A platform for ideas. A forum for conversation. The Internet is a powerful, adaptable, by-us-for-us tool… but for what?
While the Internet has been used as a tool by many people in countless ways, one of the more concerning uses is a tendency towards vigilante justice. When people are frustrated with the lack of justice they see dealt out to others, they sometimes find ways to deal it themselves. For people online, or netizens, the Internet becomes a means to bring about justice… but what kind of justice?
The word “justice” is most commonly associated in today’s society with its punitive sense: “making them pay.” Unfortunately, the kind of punitive justice enacted by people empowered by the Internet and emboldened by their anonymity – while it does lead to a handful of success stories – more often than not becomes misguided justice carried out to the extreme by the Internet’s self-commanded shame army.
However, there is another side to justice: that which is concerned not with the perpetrators but with the perpetrated. This side is more interested in helping people who have had injustices committed against them, or with reaching out to those for whom “justice” has not been entirely “just.”
Some might call it “mercy.”
I want to talk about dinosaurs for a moment. And not just any dinosaurs, of course, a very particular dinosaur who can teach us a lot about justice and mercy: Rarasaur.
Rarasaur is a popular blogger and BlogHer 2014 Voice of the Year who writes about anything and everything and shows up everywhere, spreading her #rawrlove and asking nothing in return. She recently stunned everyone, including probably herself, by going to jail.
As her story goes, several years ago she was accused of a crime she did not commit by a former employer that has haunted her ever since. Just over a week ago she got word that they had built up a criminal case against her and a warrant was out for her arrest. Since she had run out of the resources to fight (financially and otherwise), she decided to turn herself in and “stop fighting,” because, in her words,
Sometimes the benefit of fighting for truth isn’t worth the cost of winning.
Before Rarasaur left, she had the chance to write a goodbye to her hundreds – perhaps even thousands – of blog readers, online community and friends. Did she use it as an opportunity to enlist her loyal followers to carry out vigilante justice on her behalf? To find the people responsible, and make them pay? Of course not. Rara knew all too well the consequences of vigilante justice, having been a victim of it herself, one of too many dark-skinned scapegoats in the wake of 9/11.
Instead, she used her final post to inject one last dose of her signature #rawrlove into the Internet before she was gone. Rara has never been an advocate of justice so much as she has been of peace, love and mercy.
Those of us who have followed her blog and participated in her online world believe her when she says she’s innocent, our blood boils when we hypothesize reasons she’s being pinned with such a crime. But what can we do? We sit back, and we sigh, and we rant, and we feel powerless at what we perceive to be a failure of justice, or at least a failure of those tasked with delivering it.
But we are not powerless. Where we see justice fail we can become vigilantes, not of justice, but of mercy.
Vigilantes of justice see the person they believe justice has failed to punish and take it upon themselves to deliver that punishment.
Vigilantes of mercy see the person they believe justice has failed to protect and take it upon themselves to deliver that protection.
In Rarasaur’s case, there are many ways we can enact vigilante mercy. Here is a list of how you can help, information on sending her mail, and #rawrlove stuff her husband made you can buy to show your support.
But this is about more than just Rarasaur. This is about us. This is about what kind of Internet citizens we want to be, how we want to react when faced with injustice. Will we be vigilantes of justice, or of mercy?
I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.
– Abraham Lincoln