Crowdsourcing lustration and vigilante justice
Surfing the blogs of the Russian extremists – what a fun job I have! – I stumbled upon a link to an interesting new site called Shpik. The site advertises itself as a "database of people liable for lustration". A quick historical note: "Lustration" is not just another fancy GRE world; it’s been quite common ...
Surfing the blogs of the Russian extremists - what a fun job I have! - I stumbled upon a link to an interesting new site called Shpik. The site advertises itself as a "database of people liable for lustration". A quick historical note: "Lustration" is not just another fancy GRE world; it's been quite common in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s, mostly as a means of purifying the state of the former communist apparatchiks (lustration never really reached Russia).
Surfing the blogs of the Russian extremists – what a fun job I have! – I stumbled upon a link to an interesting new site called Shpik. The site advertises itself as a "database of people liable for lustration". A quick historical note: "Lustration" is not just another fancy GRE world; it’s been quite common in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s, mostly as a means of purifying the state of the former communist apparatchiks (lustration never really reached Russia).
Here is the original notice that greets visitors to the site (in my own translation, which is probably not ideal):
Dear visitors! For the first time in the history of modern Russia, you are looking at a regularly updated database that lists people liable for lustration. People who have committed human rights violations while on duty and who have participated in repressions against the opposition, activists and mere dissenters.Comitting their crimes, many of them are sure that they will remain unnoticed and unpunished. But this ain’t so. Sooner or later, every person mentioned on this site would need to publicly account for what they have done.
Currently, the site features the profiles of 441 "criminals", as well as 175 "events", 23 testimonies, and 191 photos. One can easily add new names and events to the site – it relies on the Wiki principle of "anyone can contribute". The objective, as far as I understand, is to identify future candidates for lustration and document their misbehavior. There is also an interesting section for those officials who have not yet been fully identified – some may be missing a photo or a full title – and anyone can fill that in, in the good old Wikipedia spirit.
Even a quick look at the site reveals that it is full of details, footnotes, and references to news articles where "abuses of power", official misconduct, or selected violence were initially reported. There is also an option to browse the site based on the geographic regions. A tiny notice in the footer of the site explains that it is part of The Other Russia campaign (the one that has liberals like Garry Kasparov working together with radicals like Eduard Limonov).
Some of the reports and profiles that I looked at seem to me like border-cases. There is, for example, an entire section that purports to identify "provocateurs"; in some cases, their only sin seems to be showing up at rallies of "The Other Russia" and thwarting them by being too loud. Since many of the people listed on the page are young students – and may actually genuinely believe in what they were doing – it’s quite disturbing that now they have been lumped together with some excessively violent FSB agents and corrupt judges…
Frankly, I feel extremely uneasy about the whole concept of "crowdsourced" vigilante justice. One part of me thinks that it’s great that ordinary citizens can now help track the corrupt and evil officials that muzzle freedom of expression and crackdown on peaceful protests. But then another part of me imagines what kind of damage can be caused by crowdsourcing lustration and leaving it up to the popular masses to determine who is to blame; lustration is always a very complex and nuanced historical process, which in many countries requires dedicated commissions and tribunals – and I find the whole idea of crowdsourcing it quite revolting…
What is the ideal solution here? I think it is probably be to accept tips/database entries from anyone in the Wiki manner, but refrain from publishing them online and store them for the future instead. This, of course, removes the pressure from the panicking public officials, but I think it might be possible to somehow notify them once someone has reported on them, without necessarily making the entire entry public.That would generate enough useful data for the future commissions but would also help to protect the innocent…
I am sure that people behind Wikileaks and similar "radically transparency" projects would probably disagree with me and argue that absolutely everything should be published. But then again the same people have just argued that the News of the World journos didn’t go far enough, when they tried to hack into the cellphones of the British celebrities. I am still finding it hard to wrap my head around such arguments but in the case of lustration, I firmly believe that excessive openness would probably only hurt…
Are we entering the age of the cyber-Kangaroo courts?
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