Social Media Can Ruin Lives and We Should Reject Mob Justice


Over the last several years, I've noticed a terrifying trend that seemed to be getting worse. I say "seemed" because I think it might have peaked, but I'm not sure. A growing chorus of voices has called on us to accept all accusations of wrongdoing made by women against men. This seems potentially dangerous but is just the tip of the iceberg. Many of these same voices expanded their calls for us to accept any accusations of wrongdoing made about anyone they do not like. This includes people who disagree with them on social media, politicians from the other party, and public figures who dare to say things they don't like. Some demand the uncritical acceptance of criminal accusations.

They have no interest in due process, the rule of law, or the rights of the accused. Some reject the presumption of innocence. For them, accusation = guilt and is more than enough to warrant punishment. This is mob justice, and it is beyond dangerous. If you are an atheist or a member of a religious minority, you already know this.

Most of those who seem eager for mob justice would claim to oppose the brutal murders of women accused of witchcraft. They'd condemn the treatment of black men in the South accused of being too interested in White women. They are not fans of tormenting gay men accused of immorality. Most would agree that police officers sometimes arrest innocent people for bullshit reasons. Thus, they know that some accusations are false. They also know that some charged with crimes are innocent. The message seems to be clear: mob justice is okay as long as we are the ones doing it.

When I see the online mob gearing up to come after someone else, I try to emphasize with them. I hope that none of their fathers, husbands, boyfriends, sons, or close male friends are ever falsely accused of sexual harassment or worse. I hope that none of the black or brown men in their lives are ever arrested on bogus charges by racist police officers. I hope that none of their immigrant friends are ever profiled by immigration officials because of their ethnicity. And I hope that they never fall victim to the sort of bias, malice, or errors that could lead to false accusations.

Everyone has heard about at least one of the many tragic events where the police officers go to serve a warrant and end up entering the wrong house. They think they are going after an armed drug dealer, hit the door with their battering ram, and go in guns blazing. It turns out they got the address wrong, and they've just terrorized some poor family and killed their dog. I wish the individuals who make up the online mob could pause to think about this family the next time they feel tempted to harm someone.

Bias is real. Some people lie. Mistakes happen. Some accusations are false in the sense that they are made up by someone with something to gain. Some accusations are mistaken in the sense that they result from errors but reflect no malice on the part of the accuser. Mob justice does not take any of this into account; due process and the rule of law do.

The implication is clear. Reasonable people should reject mob justice. You and I should reject mob justice.