Today, a tasteless joke could make you a target. Tomorrow, it may be an unpopular, but valid, idea — like taxing soft drinks, or instituting quotas for female board members.
Online vigilantism “is likely to lead to a greater culture of censorship — in particular, the stifling of alternative voices and opinions,” Hardaker wrote in an email. “[W]e find people defending this strategy of intimidating, threatening, and ultimately silencing others as ‘free speech,’ seemingly oblivious to the irony that in doing so, they are actively engaged in censorship.”
Already the denouncers succeed almost immediately in silencing their targets. Closing her social media accounts makes Sacco the rule, not the exception. But the mass vengeance not only muzzles those who’ve done something wrong, it scares others into a kind of submissive silence. Sacco’s experience warns everyone else that there is no tolerance for deviance from the amorphous, but rigidly defended, ethics of the mob. You can say what you please, so long as it pleases the crowd.