Online vigilante groups – more harm than good?

There has been a lot of focus in recent weeks on the safety of children online and in particular with the use of social media. A number of groups have been attempting to combat online predators through the use of decoy social media profiles. These groups valiantly defend their actions and methods and deny that they are ‘vigilantes’. It appears that these groups have misunderstood the term ‘vigilante’ and seem to think that the term ‘vigilant’ includes a meaning where vigilantes seek to punish wrong doers with their own form of justice. The definition of a vigilante is below and just simply states that it can be an individual or group of individuals who take the law into their own hands where they think the law is insufficiently equipped to deal with a particular crime. These groups are, in effect, taking the law into their own hands by setting up sting operations, gathering evidence, and surrounding the suspect.

“a member of a self-appointed group of citizens who undertake law enforcement in their community without legal authority, typically because the legal agencies are thought to be inadequate.”

By definition, Predator Exposure and Child Protection Ireland are a vigilante groups.

There are a number of concerns with the methods employed by Predator Exposure, Child Protection Ireland, and other similar or liked minded groups. Some of these concerns have been echoed by law enforcement.

Below are the concerns as I see them.

  1. We are all human and even the best, most well intentioned human can make mistakes (“to err is human”) and mistakes have already occurred during this vigilante type predator hunt. There have been cases of mistaken identity. When an innocent person is incorrectly identified as being a sexual predator, it can have serious consequences such that the person is surrounded by a group of predator hunters whose faces are known and familiar. Members of the public who pass by and witness an attempted sting might automatically presume the person to be guilty. What is worse is that these sting operations are not simply recorded, reviewed, and published online – they are streamed live online to thousands who follow the social media page. These online followers might also presume this person to be guilty. When members of the police force arrive on the scene, they will naturally bring the person to the police station for interview. It is only after this police enquiry that the person might be released if the evidence was pointing towards a different individual. The members of the public who witnessed the incident both on the street and online would not be aware of the person’s innocence or the police conclusions. This may put the person in danger from other violent or aggressive groups. There is also the stress of an innocent person being surrounded by allegations from this group that should be directed at the correct perpetrator and the inconvenience that this might have disrupted the person’s activities as this person might have had a job interview or a medical appointment.
  2. Another concern is that online predators naturally want to avoid being detected or caught. In order for them to do this, they often look for new ways to groom their victims. The methods of Predator Exposure, Child Protection Ireland, and other groups are so public that it might force offenders to create their own fake or false social media profiles which could either accidentally or deliberately mirror the profile of an innocent person and lead to the issues described above. This concern is similar to one already mentioned by law enforcement that the activities of Predator Exposure, Child Protection Ireland, and other groups of this nature could make catching online sexual predators more difficult.

While I agree with the motive or goal that it is important to keep children and young people safe online, I must disagree with some of the methods employed by Predator Exposure, Child Protection Ireland, and other like minded groups. If Predator Exposure, Child Protection Ireland, and these other groups insist on continuing with this form of vigilante justice then I believe that once they pass the report and evidence to law enforcement then their involvement should cease unless they are summonsed to appear in court. Should they be summonsed, then they should simply appear in court to give their statements and answers, but should refrain from approaching the suspect. At this point once the suspect is before the courts, these groups should allow the justice system the time and space to come to their conclusions irrespective of any opinions that they might have about the particular justice system.

What do you think, are the very public methods of Predator Exposure, Child Protection Ireland, and other groups doing more harm than good? Could these actions drive online sexual predators further underground and make it harder for law enforcement to bring them to justice? Could Predator Exposure and Child Protection Ireland actually be putting children and young people in even more danger? Should suspicions, concerns, and evidence be handed to law enforcement professionals who are trained to deal with these situations?

If anyone has questions or concerns about this article, feel free to comment below or contact me.

If anyone has concerns about a child, they can report them to any of the organisations below and the concerns will be followed up.

*updated on Tuesday 3rd April 2018 to include a reference to an Irish based copy cat vigilante group. The post originally only made reference to a vigilante group in the UK.

**updated on Tuesday 7th May 2019 to include contact information for reporting of child protection concerns.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 19th, 2017 at 3:18 pm and is filed under General, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.