“Webtribution” on the rise as vengeance becomes easier than ever

“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I’m The Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.”

2009: Via social networking.

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece today about the newfound popularity of vengeance over the web: webtribution, they call it. Apparently, wreaking havoc on the lives of those who wronged you used to be a huge pain in the ass. It was easy to get caught and embarrassing if you were found out. But now that everyone and your mom has a Facebook account, it’s not too hard to at the very least shame the hell out someone who’s upset you, and just as easy to damage their marriage, career and social standing.

Of course, the web has been used for revenge since its inception. And the WSJ discovered 4chan in its research:

“We know that in a mob people will do socially unacceptable things they would never otherwise do,” says Elizabeth Englander, director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center and professor of psychology at Bridgewater State College in Bridgewater, Mass. “They feel invisible, so they cede responsibility.”

But it’s not until recent years that webtribution has really soared alongside venues like Facebook and MySpace, where everyone’s relatives, friends, co-workers and exes are gathered into one easy place. The WSJ article tells the tale of a woman who revealed her husband’s betrayal via his Facebook account, remaining remorseless even while the couple is trying to mend their marriage:

…when she found out her husband was cheating on her last March, she logged onto his Facebook account, deleted all his privacy settings—allowing anyone to see his page—and created a new status update for him: “Moving back to my mom’s because my wife caught me cheating with a woman from work.”

Almost immediately, her husband’s friends began sending questions, which Ms. Eschbach answered, acting as him. She named the other woman and explained that the affair had been going on for four years and had been carried on over lunch, sometimes at the woman’s house, sometimes in a car. She asked if anyone had a room for rent. Finally, she disparaged his physical attributes, adding that “I am surprised Jackie stayed with me for so long.”

“I wanted everyone to know what a jerk he was, and this was the easiest way to do it without saying it to each person’s face,” says Ms. Eschbach, 39 years old.

By the time she was done about an hour later, there were 55 comments from family and friends on her husband’s Facebook page. Some asked if the status updates were true. Others, including his sisters, angrily criticized her husband and the other woman.

Okay, show of hands- who wasn’t totally like go, the wife in that story! But of course, web vengeance isn’t always (or maybe even often) fair. The piece begins citing a woman who claims to have been wrongly outed as a homewrecker by the ex-girlfriend of her now husband. The potential exists for all of us to be damaged by a romantic rival, a disgruntled co-worker or someone who just plain doesn’t like us.

While it’s worse news for jerks, it does kind of give the average schmuck a bit more insurance they’ll be treated more fairly across the board- retribution resolution is just one scathing Yelp review or blog post away.(Liskula Cohen most definitely disagrees with me there). But venting anger on the web doesn’t always have to be about revenge in a vacuum- scams and questionable business practices are exposed through web anger, too. In the comments, I’d be interested in hearing if you’ve ever been on either side of web revenge. Have you used social media, blog posts or message boards to vent at someone specific? Or have you been on the receiving end?

[Source: WSJ via Gawker]