Social media can fuel vigilante attacks
Cape Town - Social media websites are increasingly being used to name and shame lawbreakers or make residents aware of crime in their area. But these sites also have potential negative consequences – vigilantism, or even criminal charges for those making posts.
Chad Thomas, chief forensic investigator at IRS forensic services, has warned that people behind the posts can be charged as an accessory after the fact if the post leads to an assault or death.
Thomas said: “Under our constitution you are innocent until proven guilty. Vigilante action can only make things worse. Pagad is a prime example of what can happen. They were protecting the community, but as a result innocent people died in the crossfire. As much as we want to fight crime in our communities, we must do it according to the law.”
Facebook pages such as Traffic Fines, Cameras and Updates and Manenberg Gang Watch have become invaluable sources of information and for monitoring incidents.
But the Mitchells Plain Community Policing Forum has cautioned against a shocking trend of posting photos and addresses of alleged criminals online, fearing this could trigger vigilante attacks if residents decide to take matters into their own hands.
The forum also fears that it could fuel further violence between rival gangs or even pit communities members against one another.
One post from the Mitchells Plain Neighbourhood Watch Members Present and Past featured the address of a man who allegedly stabbed another man, with the writer of the post admonishing the man’s mother for not taking responsibility for her son’s actions.
A resident’s post read: “Knife stabbing: suspect N (name deleted) of .... happen in ... Portlands. A(name deleted) you don’t want to acknowledge the wrong doings of your son sorry to say the victims friends are hunting your son. Against who are you going make a case like you normally do?”
Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut said police had not received any complaints as a result of the posts.
But Mitchells Plain CPF deputy chairman Ashley Potts said vigilante attacks often went unreported.
“Social media sites can be helpful but also dangerous especially when they publish such sensitive personal information. Many people take the information at face value without checking and that is extremely worrying with this new trend,” said Potts.
“It’s hard to keep statistics because of various circumstances. People might not report it because they don’t want to draw attention to themselves or fear they will be victimised. We’ve had a few reports from Tafelsig in a small area called ‘hel’ (hell) – because of the high rate of crime in the area – but we haven’t had much progress in those cases.”
Mitchells Plain CPF chairman Abie Isaacs said vigilantisism could result in community members turning on one another.
“You have a side against gangsterism and crime, and another side that supports it. Sometimes it’s because their children are gangsters, as seen in some of the online posts, but at the end of the day it’s tearing communities apart.”
A resident of Manenberg who goes by the name Whistleblower, is the administrator of the Manenberg Gang Watch Facebook page. He believed there was nothing wrong with posting personal information on alleged criminals.
Former Americans gang boss Moegamat “Dimes” Madatt was the apparent victim of a vigilante attack this week when his Rocklands home was petrol-bombed.
Though he acknowledged his own history of violence, he condemned the attack on his family.
“My past has caught up with me and while I accept that, there is no reason to go after my family. If you want to attack me, attack me on the road.”