In the days following the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons -- the teenage girl from Halifax who committed suicide after being gang raped, photographed, and harassed -- the hacktivist group Anonymous is playing a game of chicken with the authorities in Nova Scotia. Anonymous says they have the names of four suspects, and are threatening to release that information if justice is not delivered. Those names have in fact been circulating in small online circles, but the information has been withheld from publication on Anonymous's largest social media channels. All of this has caused a storm of negative feedback from those who view Anonymous's actions as destructive "vigilantism" while Anonymous maintains they are only involved because "several crimes have been committed in Nova Scotia. A 17-year-old girl killed herself because the police failed to do their jobs."
I spoke with a member of Anonymous who is directly involved with the operation to bring Rehtaeh's rapists to justice, in order to get a better handle on their motivations.
VICE: How do you go about sourcing the information that has led to naming the four suspects?
The information we have gathered comes from a combination of internet research and informants. It's a lot more like being a journalist than it is being a detective. We use advanced search techniques to comb the internet for statements, photos, videos, whatever we need. We can locate statements by suspects made years ago on accounts they may not even know still exist. We've also developed a level of trust with our online community and they feel comfortable speaking with us because they know we'll protect their identities. We validate their information in the same way the police might, by cross referencing stories and doing background checks on the individuals who are providing the information. There's also a psychological factor. It's important to recognize the motives behind the person who is providing you the information. Some people just want to be involved so they'll embellish their accounts or perhaps they want revenge. You can't always count on a person's memory either so it's important to test them to discover if the story they are telling you has been compromised by time or their emotional state.
VICE: In this case, did your sources approach you?
Most of the sources approached us, but we tracked down quite a few of them by examining the online interactions of the victim and the suspects.
VICE: What have you learned about this case so far that you want people to know?
Only half of this case is about those four teenage boys and the alleged rape. The real guilty parties here are the adults that violated Rehtaeh. I would like to see those boys punished for what they did because I think it sets a terrible example for the other young men in Nova Scotia, but almost even more I would like to see the police and the school system pay for what they did to that girl. They had a responsibility to be there for her, to protect her and to relieve her torment. They failed at every turn to help her. Now they're all too busy blaming one another. The school claims they didn't know. The police say they couldn't find any evidence. They're both guilty of incompetence.
VICE: What happens if you have the wrong person?
I became specifically involved in this operation to prevent that. I didn't get involved in Steubenville. I didn't like the way it was handled. People were called out and in some cases forced to prove their innocence before being let off the hook. It seemed a lot like guilty until proven innocent. I have experience tracking people down online. We would never go public on this unless we were 100 per cent sure. Fortunately, this isn't really an issue. The boys who committed the assault were very public about what they had done. The photo taken of the rape was circulated throughout the school, possibly to hundreds of kids -- this of course goes to back my previous statements about how incompetent the school administration was.
People are using this idea of us possibly implicating the wrong individuals to detract away from the real issues. We all know who the police and school officials are that are guilty in this case. I think it's also important to note that justice systems often find innocent people guilty and sentence them to prison, or even in the U.S. for instance, death. So it's nonsense to compare the justice system to Anonymous, but I doubt I'd be embarrassed if our track records were viewed side by side.
VICE: How would you respond to columns like Chris Selley's in the National Post that say your efforts are not needed?
Wow, you picked a real winner there. Well, no offense to Chris Selley or the National Post, but he seems to insinuate that if the police screw up and a few rapists get off the proper response is "tough shit," move on to the next case. For that, I think he's a moron. Let's slow down for one second and assume that I did release the names of those rapists... what law am I breaking? I suppose they could sue me for slandering them. Of course, to do that they'd have to prove I was lying.
This gets worse: he says we should ignore the photo being spread around the school because it probably happens all time. We can't expect the legal system to punish everyone that's passing around photos of women being raped, now can we? It's "fairly routine adolescent behaviour." Chris Selley article epitomizes the rape culture. Selley is equating a traumatic rape with a picture of a girl's breast she took in a mirror and sent to her boyfriend.