The new Rome: how vigilante internet justice destroys lives

We carry out the punishments ourselves in the form of tweets, and emails, and podcasts, and news stories, and every manner of hate-filled speech until we are drunk on our own moral superiority.

Ashley Donde Montreal QC

Our coliseum is social media. Our gladiators are outraged keyboard warriors. Our bloodlust is unquenchable, and we love to watch lives being destroyed.

Perhaps being killed by a gladiator was a mercy compared to the slow, painful, humiliating public shamings of today. At least it was over quickly.

A decade ago, what’s now known as “Covington Gate” wouldn’t have been on our collective radars. We would’ve spent the week as usual: working, fixing meals, and helping our kids with homework. Maybe we’d have coffee with a friend, and chat about the weather and our families. There would be no discussion about a group of boys we don’t know, at an event we never attended.

But not today. Not this week.

Today we need a hit, because today we are addicted to seeing others suffer and pay. Whether the offense is real or perceived doesn’t matter. If we feel even a modicum of outrage, the only way to relieve it is to make someone pay, and the price MUST be public destruction.

There are a variety of ways to destroy a life publicly.

We can demand a firing (see Jeremy Kappell or Megyn Kelly or Justine Sacco). We can spread photos across the internet and call for physical violence. We can make them unhirable. We can humiliate them, and make them suicidal. We can dox them so they fear for their safety every day. We can dox their friends and family, too. We can label them as racists, bigots, sexists, and homophobes, and ensure they never get their reputation back.

It’s all very palatable because there is no bloodshed. We don’t have to look these people in the eyes. We get to go back to normal life, pretending we’re civilized and refined, while they’re left to try and recover from our brutality. And all it takes is an internet connection. A few hours—or days at the most—and the damage is done.

During Roman coliseum battles, the crowd would sometimes choose if a warrior lived or died. A rabid crowd of people feeding off the suffering of another would make a life or death decision about a person they didn’t even know, for their own pleasure. Does this sound familiar?

WE are the rabid crowd. WE get to decide who (metaphorically) lives or dies. But now, we are also the gladiators. We carry out the punishments ourselves in the form of tweets, and emails, and podcasts, and news stories, and every manner of hate-filled speech until we are drunk on our own moral superiority. Until we feel we’ve reasonably ruined a person, or sent them into hiding. Until our endorphins reach a level that satisfies us. Until we feel they’ve paid.

Then, we take a quick break, until the next unsuspecting fool is shoved into the media spotlight, and we start the whole process over again.

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