A recent murder case that has captivated the Taiwanese public shows the dark side of social media.
A teenage commercial model was brutally raped and killed, and police subsequently arrested a male suspect.
After intense interrogation, the suspect confessed to the crime, and said he was incited by his female friend to commit the dastardly act because she was so envious of the victim’s looks.
Police arrested the supposed accomplice, surnamed Chen, and held her in custody.
Her alleged involvement in the murder case sparked a frenzy of “cyber-lynching” among Taiwanese netizens.
Her social media account was spammed, with as many as 20,000 angry netizens sending her malicious messages, calling her names and denouncing her act, while her personal data and photos were circulated across the internet.
However, the case took a drastic turn.
After a thorough examination of the footage picked up by security cameras at the crime scene, and scrutiny of her mother’s testimony, investigators declared that Chen has an ironclad alibi, placing her elsewhere on the night the murder took place.
Police concluded that Chen had been framed by the male suspect. She was released shortly afterwards.
After Chen was exonerated, many Taiwanese netizens regretted taking part in the cyber-lynching of an innocent woman, and deleted their malicious messages on her social media account.
However, the damage was done, and it’s hard to imagine how Chen’s life would return to normal again.
In this age of digital information, people swap news and gossips faster than the speed of light.
However, social media is a double-edged sword. While it facilitates the dissemination of information and connects people, it also provides a handy platform for swift but often unfair litigations and judgments.
Because of social media, defendants in high-profile lawsuits, and even ordinary individuals, are sometimes subjected to public trials on the internet, with the guilty verdict already decided even before the actual court case is concluded.
In a sense, netizens who take part in cyber-lynching are just like the lynch mob in ancient times.
The only difference is that in the age of the internet, they don’t have to actually hang someone. All they need to do is to give their verdicts via their tablets or smartphones, and the damage inflicted on the person on the receiving end is often enormous and irreversible.
Hong Kong has also witnessed an escalation of cyber-lynching recently. For example, hundreds of netizens launched personal attacks against the judge who put seven police officers behind bars for assaulting pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang.
On the other hand, many pro-democracy netizens also lashed out at the defense attorneys representing the seven officers.
Such fanatical acts would not only constitute contempt of court, but also an outright disrespect for the rule of law and judicial independence.
In a society that is governed by the rule of law, only solid evidence counts when it comes to deciding whether a defendant is guilty or not. And once a court ruling is made, the public must respect it.
The only way to express disapproval is for the convicted to file an appeal through standard legal procedure.
Any other means to try to overturn a court decision will only erode the rule of law, and the entire society will have to pay the price.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 6
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
– Contact us at [email protected]