Visibility as a tool for social change and social harm
Digital media enable citizens to hold fellow citizens accountable, often resulting in shaming and harassment. This project examines digital vigilantism (DV) in a global context. DV is a process where citizens are collectively offended by other citizen activity, and respond through coordinated retaliation on digital media, including mobile devices and social media platforms. The offending acts range from mild breaches of social protocol to terrorist acts and participation in riots. In addition to shaming the targeted individual, participants may also share additional information about the target, resulting in a harmful and lasting mediated visibility.
DV is an interdisciplinary concern that requires both conceptual and empirical advancement. Drawing upon existing research on digital media cultures, online policing and surveillance, this five-year project considers the cultural factors surrounding DV, in contradistinction to embodied vigilantism. It also considers the social impact on the various actors involved, as well as how this complicates conventional policing and state power. While online shaming and coordination can transcend borders, this project will remain attentive to national contexts in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, China and Russia. This project will develop a theoretical framework that advances the frontier of knowledge of DV in relation to key disciplines and interdisciplinary fields. Next, the research will deliver a comprehensive analysis of news media as well as other sources of public discourse that render DV meaningful. This will be followed by an account of DV from the perspectives of those who encountered or contributed to it in a personal or professional context. These theoretical and empirical findings will inform a conceptually rigorous and nuanced understanding of the motivations and practices that surround DV, alongside recommendations for key stakeholders.