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The Use of Social Media by Crime Victims and Bystanders as a Critical Discourse of the Criminal Justice System and a Self-Help Justice Mechanism

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The rebirth of shame sanctions in cyberspace brings a new set of questions concerning the practice. This study focuses on the use of social media as a critical discourse of formal criminal justice, specifically, individuals who share on social media a post describing deviant behavior in which the alleged wrongdoer is identified and publicly shamed. Shame sanctions are among the most ancient forms of justice, and yet its online manifestation as ‘e-vigilantism’ calls for special attention; whereas the traditional debate on alternative sanctions is usually within the boundaries of punishment inflicted by state actors, “shaming 2.0” has taken the form of privately administrated justice mechanism, operated by a crowd of non-experts in virtual settings, resulting in the privatization of justice in the border scheme of things. Being a resourceful self-help tool on the one hand and a destructive mechanism on the other, this practice maximizes free-speech to its fullest, but nonetheless threatens the rule of law with public order being pushed aside and oftentimes results in real tragedies. Indeed, turning to social media when confronted with injustices, can and should be seen as an act of self-help through which the individual claims power and questions the execution of justice exclusively by State actors. In a dearth of academic research, the study wishes to surface the described phenomenon, improve our understanding of it and empirically examine this “crowed-judging” mechanism. The study sheds light on possible reasons for e-vigilantism, that is occurring with little attention from the legal community thus far. It is expected to push the longstanding debate on shaming a step further and broaden literature on procedural justice, obedience and trust, whilst considering the changing nature of law in a technologically driven world.

The dissertation is composed of two main parts. part I is an empirical study that assumes correlations between perceptions of procedural justice, legitimacy and trust in formal law enforcement – and attitudes towards non-physical, online self-help. It is hypothesized that support of e-vigilantism negatively correlates with trust in formal law institutions and perceptions of procedural justice, and positively correlates with social trust. Meaning, individuals who display higher levels of trust in legal authorities, and who perceive the law and its agents as legitimate, are less likely to support an act of online shaming. It is further hypothesized that individuals who display higher levels of social trust, meaning trust in and among their community, are more likely to support an act of online shaming due to higher sense of belonging and commitment to their community. To test these hypotheses, levels of trust, legitimacy, confidence in formal law enforcement and support of e-vigilantism are measured via a web-based survey of a sample (N~450) of Israeli social media users. Part II analyzes the main objections to shame sanction, through which a two-fold normative argument is made. First, e-vigilantism might be revenge-based, yet so are formal legal systems. That is to say that the main difficulty with e-shaming does not stem from the sanction’s intrinsic nature “as such”, but rather has to do with the way in which it is administrated and implemented. Second, be perceptions on formal law authorities the result or the cause for supporting self-help, the inseparable relationship between the two is without a doubt applicable to e-vigilantism. It is argued that community-led punishments evolved into modern legal systems in which law enforcement agents are in power. When those fail in the eyes of the People – the crowed claims back power and revenge ‘breaks out’. This is also supported by the empirical portion.

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This item is under embargo until April 28, 2024.