Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Mob Justice Rules

It was with some qualms that I joined in the social media hunt to name and shame the men that had verbally harassed CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt. I'm not supportive of the social justice mob and it's desire for vengeance. It's never clear if the mob is interested in punishment or reform.

It was beyond any doubt that what these men had done was reprehensible. But when one was fired from his job, my fears crystallized and came into focus.

Justine Sacco
Adria Richards
Lindsey Stone
Chad Shanks
Alicia Lynch
Matt Bowman
Lawaun Edwards
Sierra Mccurdy
Remington Allen Geisler
Anthony Federico
Shawn Simoes

These are all people that have lost their jobs over some public statement or another. Enough people thought that each one had done something offensive enough to warrant pressuring their employer (overtly or otherwise) into firing them. That is what all these people have in common. One mob or another wanted retribution, and it was delivered.

Even if we grant that some of these actions were so egregious as to justify the loss of employment, it is apparent that it is not true for all of them. And that is the crux of the problem we face. Because if you cannot agree that everyone in that list deserved to lose that job, why do you get to decide that some of them do?

This is the problem with mob justice. There are no rules or controls that can be relied on to apply an equal sense of justice. There are no appeals, no impartial trials, no weighing of the facts or the reliance on precedence. When it comes to our civil and criminal courts, we emphasise due process. For good reason. It is due process that mob justice lacks; and it is a problem and a threat.

It is true that speech is not consequence free, but that does not mean all consequences are appropriate. When seeking justice, society must temper vengeance with reform. But the mob has downloaded that responsibility to those that employ us. Not the most trustworthy allies. If a company is threatened, they will act to protect their brand.

I will repeat myself on this point:

Consider for a moment the repercussions of threatening a company's brand over something an employee says. This notion therefore means that a company must police all employee online communications; whether at work or in private and shutdown any behaviour that threatens the company's reputation. The best defense is a good offense, so every organization should monitor and control what employees are allowed to say or access online while in the office. Not only that, but they probably should put in their employment contracts that employees must allow the company to monitor all personal devices for any activity that could harm the company. This is the logical conclusion. If the mob threatens a company over an employee's actions, then that company has a right to prevent those actions from happening. And before hiring an employee, it is only right and just that all online communications be handed over to be judged by HR for troubling commentary. Why hire potential trouble?
By threatening corporate brands, the mob citizenry is giving the very power to corporations that they most loathe corporations for using. Not only giving them that power, demanding and pleading that corporations take it and use it.

This is a volatile mixture. A mob can decide our fate, and a financially self-interested organisation is the arbiter of that fate. There is no recourse for anyone that has been judged and found wanting.

Just because the mob might be right in a particular case does not mean it is always right. I submit it hasn't been right in the majority of cases it has tried and judged individuals. It cannot be trusted, and it should not be celebrated. We can do better.



Ken Breadner said...

Fair enough.
In my most utopic vision I see a society that actually functions by way of upvotes and downvotes: you're credited for good behaviour and debited for bad.
But who decides good and bad?

In eight years I have collected about 40K Reddit karma. If karma (which really should have been called cReddits) paid my grocery bill, I'm sure I could do better. As it is, I'm occasionally downvoted to oblivion by people who disagree with me (which is against Reddiquette, but since when did etiquette rules matter? 1950?)
I have seen the mob and the hivemind up close and it isn't pretty. At the same time, as far as I'm concerned, anybody associated with this Simoes guy and anyone like him is tarnished by so being, and needs to distance themselves accordingly. How do we stop behaviour like this? We've tried obviously doesn't work. Swift, severe punishment might have a dampening effect. Spiritually juvenile of me, but there you go.

mrchan said...

Tangent: if you're interested in social reputation as currency in fictional form, I recommend Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

As for the subject at hand, I think the incident in question is one that is fireable, though not necessarily termination requiring. The social media trend will push things toward the more extreme end.

You'll note I stayed mostly off the Tweets on this subject. It felt anything there would either feed the beast or condemn it, neither of which I felt strongly enough to do.

Ken Breadner said...

Regarding the addendum: of course people marching and peacefully protesting should not lose their jobs. However, if they cross the line and, say, flip a car and set it on fire...then yes, I think they should.

Catelli said...

For me the line is: Are they criminally prosecuted and convicted of a crime?