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Internet vigilantism describes online actions that are oriented toward monitoring the actions of others. It refers to individuals or groups that take grassroots action, rather than work through regional or national justice systems.
Internet vigilantism is also known as digilantism.
Internet vigilantism raises questions about the role of the citizen in a modern, digitized society. Many different kinds of Internet vigilantism work toward various goals involving criminal justice and retribution.
As with "real-time" vigilantism, many cases of Internet vigilantism are a response to particularly objectionable crimes involving murder, injury or sexual assault. In the United States, a very prominent form is applied to the high number of sexual assault cases that work their way through the American justice system annually. With high-profile rape or sexual assault cases, Internet vigilantism can dramatically change the consequences for offenders.
Often, offenders benefit from sealed legal records, private trials and juries that are instructed not to discuss a case, while victims are even urged to keep details private in the interest of legal resolutions. When individuals start revealing details to a community, it may react dramatically, potentially resulting in altered sentences and other outcomes for defendants who would have otherwise benefited from a closed trial.
One principle of Internet vigilantism is that this type of activity tends to happen in a medium that inherently lacks centralized control. With the digital age, we have experienced a gradual emergence of consumer journalists and others reporting to the world from places where crimes happen, rather than from behind a news desk.