A story from my hometown of Logan, Utah has made international headlines this week. Colby Nielsen, whom I don’t personally know, had his newborn baby girl Kaylee taken away from him against his will. Colby was not married to the birth mother. The birth mother unilaterally put Kaylee up for adoption, which can apparently be done under Utah law.
This is the kind of story that tugs at our collective heartstrings. Anyone who has experienced the miracle of welcoming their own child into this world simply cannot fathom the nightmare that Colby is experiencing right now. An injustice has been done. We all ache for Colby. People have raised money for Colby’s attorneys’ fees. The story has been shared on social media. Citizens have called upon Utah lawmakers to change this inequitable law.
Unfortunately, some have taken matters a step further. A step too far. Sadly, an internet shame mob has formed in Eden.
Here is a sample of the internet shame mob at work:
PLEASE SHARE. TIME IS CRITICAL.
[Name of couple who took Kaylee] of Cache Valley. He [works] at [place of employment], where the LDS grandmother worked. [Female in the couple] sure likes all the LDS Apostles and Jesus. Funny how being religious doesn’t make you moral.
Attached to the post were pictures of the couple culled from their social media accounts. There are other instances where the couple has been doxxed, but there is no point in cataloging each infraction of privacy here. For those unfamiliar, Wikipedia describes doxxing as “the internet-based practice of researching and broadcasting personally identifiable information about an individual.” I was once the target of doxxing. It was a horrible, stressful experience. The doxxer even tried to get me fired. Fortunately, my employer saw through the doxxer and stood by me. Not everyone is so fortunate.
Doxxing and shaming the couple is vengeance, not justice. Only because so much of the doxxing against the couple has had a religious undertone, I invoke Paul’s counsel: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves [or third parties in stories you see on Facebook], but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
I know what some might be thinking. “But Tom, Colby’s baby was stolen from him by this couple! What kind of horrible people would do that? They deserve it. It’s justice!”
I agree that Colby and Kaylee desperately need justice. However, an internet shame mob is not justice. If you really want to help Colby and Kaylee, you’ll refrain from joining the internet shame mob. An internet shame mob, no matter how seemingly just the cause, is an emotional collective without accountability, consistency, conscience or due process.
The latest story of internet mob justice is a depressing one.
Two elderly hearse drivers driving the flag-draped coffin of a military man stopped to grab a donut before their long drive from one Florida town to the next.
A man saw the parked hearse and took a video of himself confronting them about this apparent disrespect to a fallen hero.
When they didn’t seem remorseful for stopping at a Dunkin Donuts, he sent the video to a pro-veterans group. One thing led to another and the video went viral, the internet freaked out, and the two men—both in their seventies—lost their jobs.
“Our lives are now ruined because of a donut,” one of the men wrote on Facebook. “God forgive me. We now have no means of income because of a donut and being human.”
Internet shame mobs can permanently maim the reputation of individuals and deprive them of the ability to make a livelihood. Does the husband in the couple deserve to be deprived of a career or employment in perpetuity? Forever? How would his inability to find a job affect his children and family? Do they deserve to be sentenced by the internet shame mob? Will you contribute to or perpetuate this pious faux ‘justice’? Because that is just one disturbing direction this internet shame mob is headed.
You may remember Dr. Walter Palmer, a dentist who infamously killed Cecil the Lion. He became the target of an internet shame mob. From Vox:
What Palmer did was wrong, and he deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law. But it’s easy to forget just how dangerous and unjust “mob justice” is while it’s targeting someone you despise. The more this behavior is normalized, the more likely it is to be deployed against targets who might not necessarily deserve to have their lives destroyed — including, perhaps one day, against you.
This campaign against Palmer has been disturbingly successful. His dental practice is closed at the moment, and his harassers are gleeful that they are denying him an income. But this also inflicts harm on people who did not kill Cecil the lion. Palmer’s family presumably relies on his income. So do his employees, whose livelihoods are now threatened as well. When a Reddit user pointed this out, over 1,500 users voted in support of the response that “His employees are better off working elsewhere.” The mob, naturally, has shown no intention of helping to find new jobs for the innocent dental employees it is seeking to put out of work.
Finally, we are a nation of laws, not of men. I know that sometimes sounds trite, but it is true. There is a system in place for Colby to seek redress, and that is our court system. Unlike internet shame mobs, the law is blind, equitable and ensures due process.
The internet shame mob forming against this couple will not help anyone. It won’t help baby Kaylee or Colby. It won’t mete out justice. Let’s put our iTorches and iPitchforks away and give the real justice system time to sort this mess out.