In the sobering wake of Amanda Todd’s tragic story, it’s unsurprising and yet every bit as disturbing that kids are still taunting their peers online in some pretty destructive and brutal ways. After a 15-year-old named Kylie tweeted apparently suicidal thoughts, a Twitter account with the handle @KillYourselfKylie responded with encouragement… and not the type of encouragement you would call supportive exactly. Messages included such gems as “We hate you just die…” and “We have 3 bitches who should cut and drink bleach”. It turns out the six people involved were all teenagers who knew Kylie.

Enter Anonymous. Along with members of another group named Rustle League, they took on the kids responsible for the harassment and basically browbeat and threatened them into submission, eliciting a flurry of frightened-sounding back-pedalling on the part of the original bullies. You can follow the whole train wreck here. Needless to say, the language is pretty spicy, so NSFW, but our favourite part is this (click for larger version):

Now, the Slate article, while acknowledging some reservations about the tactics and patterns of this increasingly common form of internet self-policing, ultimately comes down in favour of it. And if a teenage girl’s life was saved, who wouldn’t?

But let’s look a little closer. Whichever way you slice it, this is still adults wading in and threatening children. Is that always okay, never okay, or sometimes okay? And if you go with “sometimes”, who decides when that time is the right time? What kinds of issues justify this type of vigilantism? These are not easy questions, and we won’t pretend to have the answers. Recently, various teens who tweeted or Facebooked racist reactions to President Obama’s re-election were outed and humiliated, one young woman losing her job as a result. Now, it’s hard to sympathize with someone who holds such hateful views, but where does this end? Does mean and bigoted behaviour merit a reciprocal mercilessness? Perhaps if we wanted to live in an eye-for-an-eye world, it would. But that isn’t the social contract most of us have signed up for. As much as it is a relief the Kylie’s of the world have avoided Amanda Todd’s ultimate fate, might we pay too high a price if we end up only spreading the cruelty further afield? It’s difficult to argue against the satisfying sense of justice in this one particular instance, but look back at that series of events and ask this: if just one of those kids gets scared their information will be published online (or doxed, as it’s known), and ends up preempting that fate by doing something equally irrevocable and self destructive, what will we have gained?

That said, it’s kind of gratifying to see the 4Chan of old develop something of a conscience of late. It’s no exaggeration to say at one time they’d far more likely have been the ones encouraging the teen to kill herself than harassing her tormentors. So, kudos for that, at least.