For all its benefits, the power of social networking can also raise some troubling issues. In a dispatch from Shanghai this week, The New York Times reported on a vigilante movement involving tens of thousands of strangers inspired to hunt down a university student who supposedly was having an affair with a man's wife.
As extreme as this case may seem, cyberspace can be a breeding ground for mob mentality anywhere--and, in smaller numbers, it may already have begun in the United States. Take, for example, such communities as Off2Hunt.com, which is dedicated to "hunting down and exposing men who lie and cheat on their wives." Other sites with controversial missions go well beyond matters of marital fidelity.
It's only a matter of time before someone is photographed by a camera phone at the scene of a crime and then wrongly accused after the image is immediately posted and circulated on the Web. As one blogger put it, incidents such as the Shanghai case could eventually prove that "MySpace is mightier than the sword."
Blog community response:
"The Internet is many things; one it does really well is be an angry mob. Fuelled by a high degree of anonymity and a general lack of accountability, people have no trouble piling on those who offend the general consensus, dare question certain online personalities or commit other transgressions."
"The power of culture has convinced countless peoples to commit national suicide or to become a nation of murders while making them feel as if they are defenders of the national life."
--The Chieftain of Seir
"The Net can be a powerful tool for a variety of things, so I'm surprised it's taken this long for online revenge to make the news. I just hope none of my ex-girlfriends ever reads this and gets any bright ideas."