The Atlantic

Facebook Vigilantism Is a Scary Thing

“They’re turning suspects into criminals in one click.”
Source: Eranicle / Alex Gontar / Shutterstock / Marwan Tahtah / Getty / Arsh Raziuddin / The Atlantic

In early December, a shocking video recorded in the lobby of an apartment building on the outskirts of Beirut surfaced on the internet. The video, posted to an unusual Facebook page called Weynieh el Dawleh—or “Where is the state?”—showed two young men grabbing another man and leading him away at gunpoint. A caption claimed that the men were involved in a drug-related dispute and requested the public’s help in uncovering their identities. Less than a week after the video appeared, a follow-up video was published to Weynieh el Dawleh. It was the same footage from the lobby, but with some notable modifications, including captions noting the full names and addresses of both the perpetrators and the abductee. For dramatic effect, it had an action-movie-style soundtrack, and opened with a message in Arabic: “We asked you for help identifying them,” referring to the men in the video. “And after 48 hours, they have fallen into our grasp.” The accompanying post called on the police to arrest the attackers.

The video of the armed assault demonstrated how works. Several times a day, the administrator of the page posts photos or videos privately shared with him by the page’s followers, a number that has been as high as 250,000. The posts often depict a crime or some other alleged wrongdoing: a drug deal, an armed assault, a rollicking brawl. One even showed a shopkeeper tying up and beating the

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