Canadians use social media to out Vancouver rioters
Some see the use of social media skills to learn the identities of post-Stanley Cup Vancouver rioters as a dangerous new trend. Many officials are worried about vigilante justice.
Canadians were outraged when mobs rampaged through downtown Vancouver after the Canucks hockey team lost the Stanley Cup championship earlier this month. Now, that outrage has found what some observers see as a dangerous new outlet, through dozens of social media sites dedicated to outing and punishing the rioters.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The sites include photos and videos of people doing everything from breaking shop windows to trying to set a police car on fire to looting luxury goods stores. They name names, post telephone numbers and addresses, and sometimes include threats and racist and homophobic language. And they have provoked outrage on their own among those who warn that they are part of a new and even more dangerous type of online mob promoting a culture of mass surveillance.
“It resembles a public lynching where you have mobs of people taking justice into their own hands,” says Alexandra Samuel, a social media expert at Emily Carr University in Vancouver. ““There are lots of governments in the world who will be very interested in using this as a model.”
Social media is already used in individual cases to “out” presumed wrong-doers, from Facebook pages that reveal the bad behavior of an ex-partner to websites that name known sex offenders. But social media experts say this is the first time an entire community has used the tools to do what is normally considered the work of the police and the justice system.
Among those named are Nathan Kotylak, a 17-year-old high school senior and Olympic hopeful and member of Canada’s junior men’s water polo team; Robert Snelgrove, a 24-year-old downtown Vancouver resident; and Camille Cacnio, a biology student at the University of British Columbia. It is not known whether any of them have been charged with an offense, but they have already suffered serious consequences.
Mr. Kotylak was pictured stuffing a rag into the gas tank of a police car and trying to light it on fire. His identity would normally be protected under Canada’s young offender laws, but after he was named, he asked for a court injunction so he could publicly apologize. He was suspended from the water polo team. His father, a medical doctor, temporarily shut down his medical practice, and the family left their home in Maple Ridge, B.C., for a few days after their address appeared online and they received threats.
Mr. Snelgrove’s friends exposed him on a social media site after they saw television news pictures of him looting during the June 15 riot. He told The Vancouver Sun newspaper that he received “dozens and dozens … of downright hateful” messages, some that said “go die, go jump off a bridge, and homophobic comments.”
Ms. Cacnio, who was captured on video stealing two pairs of men’s pants from a clothing store, was fired from her part-time job and published a lengthy apology on the Internet.