David Motari is a US Marine who allegedly appeared in a video that was posted on YouTube. The clip showed a US serviceman throw a puppy over a cliff or gulley. I am not going to go into the rights and wrongs of this incident or whether the video is a fake, but was facinated and disturbed by the public reaction online.
There was an online groundswell that condemned his actions. A quick Google search showed how many people then researched and published personal details about Motari, his spouse, his friends and family. They listed two telephone numbers with different area codes for him and provided an address in Monroe, Washington State.
Screen shots were taken of his Bebo profile that had a nice picture making him easy to identify. They researched his customised Honda Civic and listed the Hawaii registration number of his vehicle.
They posted his wife’s social network details and that of his sister, these also included pictures. The online mob had spoken and they wanted punishment meted out to Motari, before the military authorities had a chance to respond and investigate adequately.
My efforts to get on to the two domains (marines.mil and usmc.mil) used by the US Marines to see how they were handling the online reputational aspect of this event was fruitless as the sites seemed to be overwhelmed with traffic (or taken down to prevent hacktivism).
Thinking about the incident and the response, gave me some questions to mull on:
- What happens if its not a puppy in the future but, instead say someone is accused of killing a child? For instance, the IHT recently had a report about an investigation of a marine who had been accused of raping a 14 year old girl on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa – charges had since been withdrawn
- How far will the online lynch mobs go?
- Are the people publishing details like those of the Motari family inciting a third-party to commit an assault or worse?
I get the sense that we (online users in western society) entered moral territory that we don’t understand the full impact of yet.
We have yet to wrestle with the great individual and collective responsibility that comes with having access to the internet and all its services. At the moment too many people treat the web as a playground and it concerns me that stupid and senseless acts may happen before this lesson is widely learned.
Some links to provide a bit of background on this story:
- A sample blog posting in praise of the cyber mob – “But let this be a lesson – if you piss off nerds on the Internet, they not only won’t care if the infractions were legitimate or not, but they’ll make your life a bitch and half. Vigilante justice for the win!” This is just one of many reactions.
- The link on Digg with over 3,500 comments at the time of writing
- The 300 news stories that Google News found on the incident