Making an Example: Justice in web 2.0

Social media is obsessed these days with the idea of social justice (social — as in social media). In a sense, it’s just a fallout of the overall lack of confidence in the legal justice system. Not that many of these crimes and misdemeanors will ever be reported. But even assuming they were to be, no one expects any resolution, any justice, given the long drawn out trials and hope breaking legal process.

“Justice Delayed is Justice Denied”, is a legal maxim quoted randomly, but the fact of the matter is that even with the so called expedited trials, it takes years for a verdict. As a society, we are prepared for that: bhagwaan ke ghar der hai andher nahin (there is delay is God’s court/house, but no darkness/injustice), an antithesis of the justice delayed line, is all too well known to us. Everyone is assured of the final judgement — either on the day of judgement, or in the karmic cycle. But no one has seen that judgement. And even the devote believers will be unwilling to let go a more secular, more earthly justice in favor of the justice of God.

In a nutshell, that’s our plight as a society. In days before impersonal government machinery took it upon itself to administer justice (mostly retributive) — and indeed in some parts of the world, including our beloved country, even today– vigilantes and other self-proclaimed cultural conscience keepers routinely took it upon themselves to dispense justice — or their idea of justice anyways (essentially efficient revenge or settling of scores). Now, in most of the civilized world, we’re supposed to entrust the deliverance of justice to third-party, to keep biases out. For sounds reasons, I’d add, because bias is not an easy thing for a wronged party (and many times, that’s both parties, if you ask them) to see, and to compensate for. It’s hard to be objective about what’s an appropriate punishment for a crime (or even who was the perpetrator, and who was the victim) when one has a personal stake (would you have said the same thing if it was your family member that had died, went the standard rebuke to anyone opposing death penalty for Yakub Memon, recently). But when one has to wait an eternity for the appropriate punishment, it’s difficult to not want quick(er) fixes.

This is where social media seems to be coming in handy. Here, it’s easy to take the justice to the objective third party — those fellow twitter happy judges out there, individually unqualified for the job, but as a collective, more than qualified (or so they/we believe). And it has indeed started becoming our kangaroo court.

My dad is fond of recounting stories of the so called kabool courts in Bombay of yore, where for petty traffic offences or the likes, one was brought in front of a magistrate (I believe), and asked to pay a paltry fine if you agreed to the guilt. The catch being, every no would double the fine. You were there to say gunah kabool (guilty as charged). Any dissent was costly. And useless. (Note: this is all anecdotal, so take it with a generous helping of salt).

Cicra 2015, Twitter is the new kabool court. Here everyone who is charged is guilty. Be it a guy who (allegedly) talked rudely to you. Or who (you believe) tried to sexually harass you in broad day light. A tweet with a photograph is enough to pronounce someone guilty as charged. Within minutes to hours (depending on when you hit those high-influence twitteratis) the offender is shamed by random third-party who has no reason to be biased.

No reason, indeed. But, the problem is, we the twitterati always side with the accuser. What if the accuser was mistaken? What if the accuser was deliberately manipulating the facts (either selectively telling parts of the story, or adding dubious facts)? We the twitter happy twitterati will RT everything. Possibly punishing an innocent. Possibly punishing someone for a misunderstanding.

IMG_0380Who has the time for such nuances when thoughts need to be compressed in 140 characters? Excluding images worth a thousand characters. Images that could destroy lives. But we have to judge, we believe. Because, the system we entrusted the judgement has failed us. And we the men and women of the web 2.0, are collectively infallible.

Or, are we?

The other aspect of this web 2.0 justice is that one hears this quite often: “let’s make an example of him, so that others will think twice …”. So, the new kabool courts will not just punish unilaterally, they’ll punish with an intent. This reminds me of another Mumbai phenomenon. I’ve heard stories where pickpockets are thrown over railway bridges, or from moving local trains (the real danger for pickpockets is the public: Confessions of a pickpocket). When crowd has nabbed a pickpocket, the justice can be swift (and extreme). The same logic of “that will teach them a lesson”. The problem is, what if the accusation is wrong? What if it’s a paranoid man who thought someone was trying to pick his pocket? Nope, no one has times for such nuances.

Same goes here, with web 2.0. At least in real life, aversion to physical violence (especially extreme violence that could end a life) might hold back a few. Here, it’s just an RT, or a share. In our search for quick justice, and making an example, what if we made an example of a wrong person? But then, we the men and women of the web 2.0 are collectively infallible.

Or, are we?

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