Internet Vigilantism: 3 Provocative Perspectives To Ponder About
Internet vigilantism – this is a term that has emerged with the rise of social media. Wikipedia defines this as “the act of carrying out vigilante activities through the Internet (the communication network or its service providers) or carried out using applications (World Wide Web, e-mail) that depend on the Internet.” In the age when people can post videos and photos on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, it becomes convenient for anyone to exact ‘social justice’ through internet vigilantism.
In Singapore, the process goes like this:
- A netizen posts a video or
insta-story regarding something that has happened.
- Someone or some group decides to act, believing that the authorities are either too slow or not competent enough to act.
- They may search for the personal details of the perceived perpetrator and exact ‘acts of revenge’ on the person.
Perhaps the most famous case that involved internet vigilantism was the Jover Chew Saga. In that episode, the internet ganged up and exposed his personal details, resulting in his family being the subject of ‘social justice’ as well.
After following a little on the recent saga on the NUS voyeurism case and an Easter message on forgiveness, I decided to add in my 2-cents on internet vigilantism and how Christians need to think about this issue.
1. God is the one who ultimately dispenses justice
At the heart of
Not only so
Let’s not be mistaken. Someone commits a crime, and he has to pay a price for committing such a crime. However, we often forget that God is the ultimate one who metes out justice. It says in Romans 12:17-19 that God is the ultimate avenger of justice. As Christians, while we should not ignore injustice, we need to bear in mind that insisting to mete out justice our own way is our implicit way of telling people that we do not believe in God’s justice. Or even worse, we might end up playing God.
2. But God is also the one who dispenses grace and forgiveness through Jesus
There is yet another dimension to justice – that God is not only the God of justice but also God of grace. It is true that God seeks justice to sins committed. After all, there is no such thing as a victimless sin. In our case examples, there were victims who got unfairly treated.
Nevertheless, we know that God has sent Jesus to be the sacrificial lamb for our sins, such that His wrath can be placated (Romans 3:25). In the age of internet vigilantism, we often forget that God is also gracious God who wants to forgive those who have sinned. Isn’t that the heart of God when Jesus asked God, while crucified on the cross, to forgive the people (Luke 23:34)?
For me, the message of the gospel means that we, Christians, cannot merely take justice out of context. Christians need to treat justice in the context of grace and forgiveness. This is not to say that those who committed the crimes should not pay the price. After Jover Chew and Nicholas Lim do need to pay for what they have done. But we often forget that the ultimate price was paid on the cross by Jesus, not on social media by
3. Christian responses to internet vigilantism reflect our theology
Because God is the ultimate avenger, and because He is gracious, that’s why Christians need to live our lives reflecting these beliefs. It is my view that sometimes, social justice through internet vigilantism goes overboard and result in collateral damage. For Jover Chew, as if it is not enough to harass him (not that this is correct), his wife got harassed as well. For Nicholas Lim, who is the culprit for the NUS voyeurism case, his livelihood got affected given that his employer has terminated him.
But because God is the ultimate grace dispenser and justice avenger, I would think that we need to be more restorative in our perspective. When society turns against a particular sinner, does the church view the situation from a lens of grace and offer a refuge place for the guy to be rehabilitated? Or do we insist on justice and justice alone?
I write this and reflect this because even within my family, there are believers who insist on justice and not grace. Some go to the extent of bringing their family members to court in the name of justice. But where is the restoration that comes along with God’s grace?
Because we are sent into the world but not of the world, Christians have to be the counter-culture and offer the refuge of grace and forgiveness in an age where there is none. While he has to pay for what he has done, it doesn’t mean we need to corner him to a place where his life is totally destroyed.
To illustrate what this looks like, my church did a video interview on the parents of two young boys and how they offered forgiveness and grace to the truck driver who killed the boys some years back.
What about the victims?
Offering such a perspective on internet vigilantism would be an extremely unpopular one. This is understandable as it seems that to restore the culprit means no justice for the victims. If I offer a place of refuge and grace for Nicholas Lim, then what about Monica Baey’s predicament and the trauma she suffered from the whole incident? Isn’t that unfair?
There is no easy answer. The balance of justice and grace is one that is difficult to attain. If the victim is a believer, I do then believe that the church should come in and assist the victim to find closure and make sense of what happened. If not, then as what I have offered, we may step into God’s territory when we exact social justice for the victims.
In any case, internet vigilantism has a tendency to overstep its boundaries and cause collateral damage to unintended parties. In some cases, people jumped and are slow to listen, and thus magnifying the impact of the incident. Therefore, as Christians, we might also want to take a step back and consider the predicaments of the culprits.
So what would you do to help these victims? How would you approach social injustice as a Christian? Share with me in the comments below. I will like to hear from your views.