What do we understand by the term ‘mob justice’? Mob justice is when a person suspected to be a criminal, or someone caught red-handed in a crime is beaten by a group of angry people or crowd in the name of delivering justice but with untoward consequences. It is also notoriously known as ‘instant justice’ or ‘jungle justice’. In a broader sense, ochlocracy, synonymous with mobocracy, is the term used to refer to the form of government in which a mob is the source of control. Precisely, it is a situation in which people take the law in their hands as vigilantes. Ghana is notorious for incidents of mob lynching; our state Manipur is no exception.
There can be many reasons for mob justice. However, any explanation behind this action is not justified by rational legal frames. The reason for irrationality is due to the mob mentality as people can be influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors on a largely emotional, rather than rational, basis.
Often mob justice is also understood as mob lynching, mob violence and so forth. However, the concept of mob justice is not limited to the physical act of violence of a mob. It actually originates from the minds and can be seen through the act of violence or the use of words in social media. This is one of the areas which many of the media and news channels are using in order to infuse a certain idea or form a certain opinion into the minds of the people.
Mob justice in the form of violent actions is often seen and heard. The government too had taken various steps to curb the incidents of mob violence. In 2018, the Supreme Court described such lynching as a “horrendous act of mobocracy”. The Court exhorted the Centre and State governments to frame laws specifically to deal with the crime of lynching. The Court also laid down certain guidelines to be incorporated in these laws including fast-track trials, compensation to victims, and disciplinary action against lax law-enforcers. The Manipur government came up first with its Bill against lynching in 2018. Many of the provisions and clauses are directions to the police in order to tackle the issue of mob violence.
One of the main psychological factors behind mob justice is Jeremy Bentham’s principle of “utilitarian moral theory”. The main principle of utilitarian moral theory – principle of utility – states that “the right action is the one that produces the most overall happiness”, and the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation. Based on this, whether the action of a mob is legally right or wrong, as long as it produces overall psychological happiness of the majority, there is a tendency to feel that it is right.
The grave problem with the mob justice is not only in the violent act itself. Many a times the victims of mob violence turn out to be innocent; many end up losing their lives. The very reason for mob justice, id est to deliver justice, becomes an injustice to many innocent lives. Incidents of mob injustices are even more blatant on social media. In the old good days when life was at a slower pace, we used to have more time to give things more thought before we shared them to someone else. But with the technology boom and explosion of social media, people tend to react quicker emotionally. Social media is a great tool, but with great power comes great responsibility. Whether one truly endorses in truth and spirit or not, as it said it is easier said than done, it is quite convenient to say that we all hate racists, homophobes, and bullies through social media. However, sometimes, lives of those who have been wrongfully accused of misdeeds on social media are ruined, literally in a matter of seconds.
Shaming is not a new social tactic. Shaming is not bad in and of itself. It is how we wield it that counts. It is an outrageous culture that can spin almost any story, even factually incorrect ones into a terrible force. What about truly innocent people, who were misidentified or misrepresented, only to have the internet mob grab their metaphorical pitchforks and chase after them? The objective of online shaming is just to destroy the targeted person.
This horde of naysayers may be completely well-intentioned but could be making decisions and forming opinions based on irrational thought. Once this group thinks sets in, an “we versus they” attitude can dominate any discussion. When members of the group do not want to dissent for fear of rejection, the mob mentality will prevail. When people have formed an opinion about something it can be extremely hard for them to change their minds. Our own personal biases, feelings and even life circumstances can have a major impact on how we process information.
In the case of MPSC 2016, some group of MPSC aspirants came up with the idea of a better and transparent MPSC. Prima facie the concept is charismatic and enchanting for the general public. It is in sync with the rise in the contemporary anti-corruption movements across the globe. Since almost everyone had, at least once, been a victim of corruption, the goal of achieving a transparent and corruption-free MPSC was captivating. And people get driven by emotions in support of the cause.
Many of the irregularities in the conduct of MPSC were highlighted. Cropped images of answer scripts were widely circulated on social media as well as in print media. It made the general public form an opinion that ‘there are illegalities’ in the exam. Moreover, since MPSC being an organization, with officers who are posted or deputed temporarily and with the “…not during my tenure” attitude, are not affected much with all these allegations. Or maybe it was a ploy by some aspirants, not to rub the MPSC on the wrong side, so that they will not bear the consequences during the re-examinations or interviews.
So, the social media activists had to find someone else to prey upon. With this, the selected 82 candidates who were serving as officers in the government became the soft target of the social media activists. Since the 82 serving officers were bounded by various government rules and guidelines against the use of media, they became the most suitable punching bag for the social media mob. Without any concrete evidences they were publicly shamed and tagged as ‘Huranba 82’, ‘corrupt officers’, ‘thieves’ etc. The truth that they might have got the job through illegal means or they may be innocent is the job of the CBI to find out. But, what was the point of social media shaming and calling names just to gain support of the social media mob? Is it a social media justice or social media injustice? The presumption of innocence which is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty” is gravely violated in such cases.
Nevertheless, for the 82 terminated officers it is only the CBI investigation which can bring justice before the whole world, so that any terminated but innocent officer can move on with their lives without such social misperceptions. Irreparable damages may have been caused by then. Their lives, careers and dignity would have been destroyed. But better late than never, it is hoped that CBI and the Court will one day deliver justice to all the innocent candidates. And let’s just hope that no innocent person, in future, falls victim to the same malicious weapon for no reason other than bad luck.
The writer Pauliansuan Touthang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Views are personal.