Social Media Vigilantism and the 2011 Vancouver Hockey Riots

Vancouver Canucks Hockey Riot 2011 Social MediaThe worst anybody could possibly do in Vancouver right now is defend any of the actions represented in the Vancouver hockey riots last Wednesday. But have people in this city been taking on vigilante roles in condemning, and in some cases threatening, people depicted in these photos?

With the number of cameras wielded by people in the streets, we’ve arrived at a point where surveillance has become ubiquitous in the public. For years, people condemned the surveillance cameras that were being installed in public places, but now, people wield them with a sense of pride and responsibility. With the widespread use of this technology, and the potential for exposure in social media, community members have a lot of power in regulating the behaviour of others.

But with great power, comes great responsibility.

Nothing demonstrates our ignorance to these new forms of social media better than the people who had the audacity to commit crimes or to showboat in front of a burning city while hundreds of people captured them on video and in photos. For many of us, the appearance of public shame sites and Facebook pages were a logical conclusion to the question of, “what did you think was going to happen?”

But in the same way that many seemingly good people were caught-up in the mayhem last Wednesday, have we been too-quick or too extreme in our retributitive actions?

Social media will be a powerful tool for the authorities in identifying people involved in the riot — and they’ll likely need the help of Vancouverites in identifying these people, but there are those that have been taking it upon themselves to go beyond identifying faces, to publicly condemning and shaming these people — which can have their own consequences.

Connor Mcilvenna was downtown during the riots and was recently fired for several pro-riot status updates on his Facebook page, including statements like “atta boy vancity!!! show em how we do it!!!” and “vancouver needed remodeling anyway….” His employer had received over 100 emails and 20 phone calls from concerned citizens. There is no proof that Mcilvenna committed any crimes downtown, but with the pressure from the public, “I didn’t want any affiliation towards my company with the things he said on Facebook,” the employer said.

In the case of 17-year old Nathan Kotylak, his family has moved out of their home due to the threats that they’ve been receiving. His father, who is a surgeon, also had to temporarily close his business.

The teen turned himself into police, after social media sites posted pictures and video of a youth stuffing a burning rag into the gas tank of a police car.

The rising star on Canada’s junior water polo team also took the extraordinary step of asking the courts to lift any ban on his identity so he could make an emotional public apology for his role in the riot.

Kotylak sobbed as he told a Vancouver television station during the weekend that his actions were “dumb” and he is prepared to face the consequences.

There are many incriminating photos where people have been caught in the act of committing crimes, but what about the hundreds of people depicted in these photos who have done nothing wrong? Even in circumstances where a person poses on top of a burning vehicle, the photo doesn’t provide any context as to how the vehicle was lit on fire. And while it’s tempting to want to say, “that person shouldn’t have been there anyway,” someone had to hold the camera.