Sorry guys, but 'Trial By Social Media' simply isn't justice

Sorry guys, but ‘Trial By Social Media’ simply isn’t justice

Social Media is the ultimate tool for spreading news. But that can take on a very sinister identity…

Sorry guys, but 'Trial By Social Media' simply isn't justice

What a wonderful tool Social Media is: It’s been responsible for remarkable reunions, wild crowdfunding successes, and has helped raise awareness of causes in serious need of attention.

However, Facebook and Twitter both have evil twins: A darker side with an unquenchable thirst for instant punishment. Populated by the masses who bey for blood and chase social justice behind the lens of a computer screen.

The mob justice of Social Media

When we see something we don’t agree with, our reaction is revulsion. When news like this broke 10 years ago, we’d respond with a disapproving shake of the head into a newspaper, or a muttered ‘unbelievable’ at a TV screen.

However, we’ve since created a monster. See something you don’t like on social media? Alert the authorities. Find their identity. Drag these people through hell. Show them no mercy. The people who are chasing what is ‘right’ often get it so wrong…

1) Justine Sacco – A Victim of Humour

Justine Sacco’s name should sound very familiar. She made the biggest mistake of her life when travelling from London to Cape Town in 2013. Forgetting that the site doesn’t always respond well to edgy humour, she posted this:

(YouTube / Jon Ronson)


Which lead to some pretty horrendous threats against her…


Jon Ronson / YouTube

Some people became excited, as it became clear she’d lose her job just a few days before Christmas. That still wasn’t enough for some, however. They wanted this woman found. And that’s exactly what happened:

One user was able to track the flight she was on (Jon Ronson / YouTube)


She was then identified upon landing… (Jon Ronson / YouTube)

When she spoke to Jon Ronson two weeks later, and talked about her joke to another human being, she gave something that Twitter is incapable of giving: Context.

Sacco explained that her American compatriots live in a bubble. That they aren’t aware of how things are outside of their little world. She was mocking that international ignorance we have all tarred Americans with in the past.

She tweeted her joke just minutes before her plane took off. With no internet connection, she was blissfully ignorant to the onslaught. Can you think of anything less fair than having your life pulled apart by a crowd of self-appointed experts? Groups, swathes, MILLIONS of people who have appointed themselves your judge, jury and executioner, whilst you sleep?

2) Matt Harrigan – A Victim of Opinion

Let’s be honest, here. We’ve all said some pretty horrible things about world leaders. Particularly about world leaders who have said pretty horrible things about other people.

Matt Harrigan was the CEO of PacketSled, and took home around $5m a year. The chief of the San Diego-area cybersecurity firm was forced to resign however, when he made comments about assassinating Donald Trump…


After those comments, the Board of Directors of his own company informed the Secret Service, who then immediately paid Mr. Harrigan a visit. In the next few days, he was jobless, a public enemy of Trump-nuts, and facing legal proceedings as well as harassment from the Secret Service.

Mr Harrigan apologised for his ‘flawed joke that was taken out of context’. Alas, he’d committed his thoughts to social media. There was no going back. Had he said this in a bar, to his mates, or in most public settings, the repercussions would have minimal at worst. He offered his opinion to Facebook, and was eaten alive.

3) Victim of Video Footage

Back in Mzansi, we saw another rather ugly case of road rage when Lance O’Leary went hell-for-leather on a pensioner’s car. When he and the elderly fellow pulled into a Joburg Caltex garage following a scrape, he want bananas.

O’Leary punched, kicked and battered the old man’s Range Rover. At one point, he tried to gain entry to the car. It was a shocking incident, and admittedly, this is a more debatable case as to whether he ‘deserved’ what he got.

Within a day, Lance O’Leary had been named. It wasn’t enough. His workplace was named, and he was subsequently suspended. It wasn’t enough. Details of his address and contact details had been posted. It still wasn’t enough…

One Twitter user was able to share O’Leary’s personal contact details and address (Twitter)


Could O’Leary have been mentally ill? Could the 71-year-old driver have seriously endangered his life, leading to an adverse reaction? It doesn’t matter. When it comes to justice on the web, context isn’t needed for most.

This isn’t justice…

There is a desperation to shame, drag and annihilate those who are caught on Social Media behaving in a way we don’t agree with. No longer can people just disapprove. They have to act, and be seen to be part of the crowd that is ‘fighting for good’.

It’s created a dangerous ‘with us or against us’ mentality. People will flock to say they think something is bad just to fit in. Tell us, how exactly does that equate to justice?

It doesn’t. A little bit of perspective would go a long way, though.