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The fine line between cyber bullying and cyber policing

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Online vigilantes – not the heroes Singapore deserve, but the heroes we need?

The widespread use of camera phones has made it increasingly difficult for bad behaviour to go unnoticed, or unrecorded. Coupled with the power of the Internet, netizens can easily gather private information about a person, and hunt those caught red-handed on videos posted online.

This has led to many cases of online vigilantism, as recently seen in the Toa Payoh Hawker Centre saga.

What's going on?

On Apr 21, a video surfaced on Facebook of a scuffle between a young couple and an elderly man. In the video, which has since gained over 2.8 million views, the couple is seen bullying the elderly man by hurling vulgarities and trying to shove him from behind.  

After the video was posted online, Netizens got enraged, calling for the couple to be identified and shamed. Within 24 hours, someone suggested a name and workplace of the culprits, saying they worked at United Overseas Bank (UOB). 

This libellous piece of information turned out to be false, but both UOB and Cherry Tan's reputation suffered from it. 

Enraged users threatened to boycott UOB over the incident.

This is not the first time netizens have decided to take the law into their own hands and dish out punishments they deem fit.

In 2014, Briton Anton Casey found himself under fire when Facebook posts of him insulting the "poor people" on the MRT went viral. Angry netizens started sending malicious comments and death threats to Anton and his family, including his young son. 

Anton eventually lost his high paying job and moved to Perth, Australia.

In one post, Anton laments that he has to "wash the stench of public transport" off himself. 

Poh Wey Lynn, 19, feels that online vigilantism has no place in Singapore. The communications student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic said: "There is only so much you can do as a keyboard warrior. Sometimes you might not even get the right person and that can be traumatising for the poor victim."

She also felt that insulting the culprit's family and friends is going too far as they shouldn't be faulted for being related to them. Doing so would also be hypocritical of the netizens who are supposed to be the "good guys". 

Other netizens also felt that such matters should be left to the police. 

On the flip side, some people believe that online vigilantism can be used for the greater good. 

Ong Shi Hui, 25, feels that online vigilantes' methods of publicly shaming the culprits can be useful in cases where the law isn't being explicitly broken.

The human resources officer said: "The person could be doing something offensive or just being very obnoxious and needs to be taught a lesson, that's when I feel the netizens can step in.

"But of course they need to be careful with their words too, if they overdo it they can get in trouble with the authorities themselves."

What's your take?

Do you think online vigilantism be should be allowed, or should it be banned?

Tell us what you think by leaving a comment on our article or social media platforms! Submit the best response by May 11 and win a $10 Coffee Bean voucher!