Knowing better. He raises an interesting point. After all, a good many of the "victims" of online abuse are more than worthy of the abuse they are taking.
Herein lay the moral quandary of vigilanteeism. In a society ruled by law, courts are supposed to adjudicate guilt and liability. Mobs, by their very nature, are unruly and prone to error. They have little regard for subtlety and certainly offer no forum for the defense. But sometimes they catch the bad guy.
The quintessential example is the aptly named Perverted Justice, the private organization whose members pose in online chat rooms as young teens, trolling for pedophiles. They then lure the adult target into a tete a tete with the "child." When the target arrives for the rendezvous, however, he is confronted by police and, sometimes, the rolling cameras of NBC Dateline.
Should private individuals -- not to mention news organizations -- be in the business of entrapping fellow citizens who otherwise might never have acted on their impulses? Maybe not, but it's hard to argue against child predators being exposed before they can do harm.
Nor, would it seem, could anybody persuasively argue about criminal defendants, especially poor ones without access to fancy lawyers and private eyes, knowing the motives -- especially dubious ones -- of those testifying against them.
Our justice system has been forever blemished by testimony from unsavory characters given in exchange for judicial leniency, early parole or who knows what. The annals of criminal law sadly overflow with verdicts of guilt -- even sentences of death -- against the wrongly accused, based on perjured testimony tendered in a plea bargain or similar deal. Hence the rationale, or at least the ostensible rationale, for Whosarat.com, the "largest online database of informants and agents."
Who's A Rat is a database-driven website designed to assist attorneys and criminal defendants with few resources. The purpose of this website is for individuals and attorneys to post, share and request any and all information that has been made public at some point to at least 1 person of the public prior to posting it on this site pertaining to local, state and federal Informants and Law Enforcement Officers. This includes an Informant who makes his or her Informant status known to any person.
That's what it says on the site's home page, and it sounds innocent enough -- even beneficent. So why are prosecutors and cops, and presumably a good number of informants and agents freaking out? Because on the same home page, right at the top, are displayed three mug shots and names of "Rats of the Week."
Registering with Whosarat.com enables a defense lawyer, or a bailed-out criminal, or an angry relative, or a hit man, to access a complete profile of the "rat." While, as Daniel Silverman has argued, data may in fact be neutral, please note three salient facts:
- While conflict of interest between the informant and the state clearly sometimes results in a miscarriage of justice, nobody has ever demonstrated that these cases are more than grotesque anomalies, and many a monster has been locked up based on the truthful testimony of an informant, rewarded with leniency or no.
- Juries are already encouraged to consider the motives of all witnesses.
- "Rat" is not a neutral word. On the contrary, the tone of this site is so caustic and inflammatory that the proprietors felt obliged to post a disclaimer:
THIS WEBSITE DOES NOT PROMOTE OR CONDONE VIOLENCE OR ILLEGAL ACTIVITY AGAINST INFORMANTS OR LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS. IF YOU POST ANYTHING ANYWHERE ON THIS SITE RELATING TO VIOLENCE OR ILLEGAL ACTIVITY AGAINST INFORMANTS OR OFFICERS YOUR POST WILL BE REMOVED AND YOU WILL BE BANNED FROM THIS WEBSITE.