Penticton assault: online vigilantes take to the web to catch suspect David Wesley Bobbitt

Users of online information aggregator site, Reddit, have come together to spread the word about David Wesley Bobbitt, a man accused of assaulting and detaining a 22-year-old Penticton woman while her infant son was present.

While online communities such as Facebook and Twitter are frequently cited for their contributions to vigilante opportunities, the media often overlooks other niche websites that contribute to the use of the web for action. The use of these websites in an effort to attain justice highlights questions regarding the state of people's trust in the effectiveness of traditional justice-oriented institutions.

 The Reddit post was made on August 2 at around 7 a.m. and links to a Globe and Mail article on the alleged assault and a photograph of the accused. The title of the post reads, "Reddit, My good friend's girlfriend was brutally held hostage yesterday in rural B.C. Canada. Beaten with a hammer, sexually assaulted and held for 15 hours… with her 22 month old son… can we get this guy's face all over the Internet?"

The post has since received 2,169 net-up votes (12,1499 up votes and 9,979 down votes in total). Up votes and down votes are how Reddit users voice their opinion of posts to determine whether or not they will be popular and reach the front page of the website. It is unusual that popular posts receive more than 2,000 net-up votes.

Users can also respond to the post to create comment threads. These threads can function as fertile ground for discussion and a place to seek and deposit additional information. With almost 1,300 comments, the thread has become a repository of media coverage of the attack, well wishes and messages of hope, the usual Internet riff raff, comparative discussions of the US and Canadian justice systems concerning the attack and comments from locals.

One Redditor posts, "I live 45 minutes north of Penticton. Kinda frightening that this guy is on the loose in the area. Hopefully he's caught soon. And I hope the victim and her son are alright," said GeneralConfusion.

The post to the website is part of a frequently used Reddit community trend that features user's appeals to others for help or advice when facing hardships such as poverty, divorce, assault etc. In this case, the user who submitted the request is  identified by his username, chrisbouchard86. He states a desire to simply spread awareness of the identity of the accused amongst the tight knit community that covers the globe and has a soft spot for vigilante justice. Reddit community members span the spectrum of socio-economic status, age, gender and ethnicity and can include anyone from the casual email user to the full-fledged hacker.

This most recent example of people flocking to an Internet community to raise awareness and seek justice comes on the heels of a successful Facebook initiative to identify participants in the Vancouver 2011 Stanley Cup riot. Use of online resources provides those affected by the tragedies of those around them with a means to express their concerns. This use of the online environment also begs the larger question of whether or not citizens gravitate away from placing their faith in traditional means of justice, e.g. police intervention, reflects a loss of faith in their effectiveness.

What are your thoughts? Do you think citizens take to the web because they don't trust traditional institutions or do they do so for other reasons?

Bobbitt was caught walking on Highway 97 near Osoyoos, B.C., Wednesday night and has since been arrested, CTV News reports.

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