Friday, 26 October 2012

Social Media Witch Hunting

Last Friday evening (19th October 2012), I was at home watching a football match between Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday. You could feel the bitter rivalry between the teams through the tv, both on the pitch and with the crowd atmosphere, which in all honestly added to the entertainment as a neutral watching it, as football played with passion rarely fails not to entertain. Sheffield Wednesday had taken the lead just before the end of the first half, but with 12 minutes from the end of the game, Leeds equalised. Then several Leeds supporters spilled onto the pitch behind the Wednesday goal, then one Leeds fan ran around the goal and up to the Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland, the fan raised his hands and shoved the keeper in the face, knocking the keeper to the ground for several minutes.

Outrage: Chris Kirkland Assaulted Live on TV

This sort of incident is extremely rare in the English game, unlike other European countries, fans are "trusted" not to encourage onto the pitch due to safety reasons, and fans aren't fenced off from the pitch. Which is one of the reasons why this incident had outraged 99% of English football fans, regardless of their club loyalty.  However it is what happened next in the virtual world that really intrigues.

Within minutes the incident had made headlines on news media websites, not just the sports pages, but the main news, which displayed pictures of the incident and a close up picture of the culprit. Even before the final whistle had blown at the match, comments on these media websites and within football forums had placed claim to the culprits identity, along with links to the culprit's Facebook page, which had no privacy set, and to a twitter account in the culprits name.
As you would expect malicious comments were posted by outraged football fans to these Facebook page and to Twitter accounts. In fact the culprits name started to trend on Twitter, meanwhile telephone numbers and an address for the culprit started to appear in posts.  But there was a problem, the twitter account being touted for hatred, @aaroncawley1 didn't actually belong to the culprit, but to a Liverpool fan who just happened to share the same name, nether-the-less this innocent person was subjected to loads of terrible comments on Twitter.
I have seen this reaction before, and this is my main point, these online witch hunts are not uncommon. Malicious people or trolls, tend to be cowards online and try to conceal their identity, typically they will either steal an identity or just make one up, anyone can set-up a Facebook page, using any name and even build a profile based on someone else.  Using such a profile to launch a troll attack can result in a similar witch hunt response, that can turn another innocence person into a victim.  So my message for those who go after trolls to seek justice, don't blindly witch hunt and assume you the found the culprit's actual online identity, remember stealing social media identities is child play, if someone is out to do harm online, 99 times out of 100, they tend to do it anonymously with a false identity, so do not assume you have found the correct person. Even if the profile ticks all the boxes, for all you know you are dealing with someone else's stolen identity. It is extremely difficult to corroborate an online identity to an actual physical person, in the physical world. It is easy to be fooled by pictures, convincing you that you are dealing with a specific individual, this is due to our human natural social behaviour.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

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