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Vigilante Justice Comes to the Web

Sites use 'crowdsourcing' to identify Vancouver riot suspects and shame them.

Before the night of June 15, Nathan Kotylak was known as a star high school athlete from a Vancouver, B.C., suburb, a 17-year-old Olympic hopeful on the Canadian junior men's water polo team.

But that day the Boston Bruins clinched hockey's Stanley Cup in game seven over the Vancouver Canucks, and upset fans rioted on the streets of Vancouver.

Kotylak was identified in a Web photo as one of the rioters, and in the backlash that ensued he and his family received threats and were harassed to the point they had to flee their Maple Ridge home.

Welcome to vigilante justice, social-media style.

A number of websites popped up after the riot, encouraging “crowdsourcing” viewers to identify participants in photos and videos, not only so they could be reported to police, but so they could be publicly shamed, harassed and humiliated.

The sites include photos and videos of people breaking windows, looting luxury stores and, in Kotylak's case, trying but apparently failing to set a police car on fire. Visitors to the sites are urged to name names, post phone numbers and addresses, and in some instances, they make threats or use racist or homophobic language about those identified.

Kotylak's name, address, cellphone number, and his father's name and office number were posted on various sites, including Facebook.

He and his family received threatening and harassing phone calls and messages. He was suspended from the national water polo team and missed his high school graduation ceremonies after the family went into hiding. His father, a surgeon, was forced to temporarily close his medical office.

All before Kotylak was charged with a crime in juvenile court.

In this country, it is the custom of the news media to withhold the identity of minors involved in all but the most serious crimes. In Canada, the Youth Criminal Justice Act makes it flat-out illegal for the media to identify a minor suspected of a crime.

Kotylak waived his right not to be identified, already broken a thousand times on the Web, so he could issue a public apology, both in print and video. In response, he was mocked online.

A blog devoted to publicly shaming each rioter created a post devoted to Kotylak's crime that drew more than 800 comments. The blog, “publicshamingeternus,” is maintained by “Captain Vancouver,” who otherwise believes it's his right not to be identified.

Kotylak, who has a scholarship to the University of Calgary, said that before June 15, the results of a Google search on his name would yield results about his awards and honors.

Google him now and there are pages after pages of search results about his part in the riot. They include Facebook pages titled, “Nathan Kotylak go to jail, Do not Pass Go” and “100,000 strong to ban Nathan Kotylak from the Canada Olympic team.

We may never know when and if Kotylak is charged with a crime or convicted, as Canadian law will continue to protect his identity as a minor.

No matter, says his attorney, Bart Findlay. Kotylak already has been judged in the court of Facebook.

“The mob mentality that took place at the riots is now happening on social media,” Findlay told The Vancouver Sun. “The family is very disturbed ... they have concerns for their safety.”

Evan Martin July 05, 2011 at 07:55 PM
Quite a jump from no parking tickets to shoving a rag down the gas tank of a police cruiser and attempting to light it on fire. I certainly wouldn't want him living in my town. And this wasn't even over something meaningful like a protest against a dictator in Egypt. People were injured and property was damaged over a hockey game. Sounds like a stand up kid.
James Davis July 05, 2011 at 11:20 PM
The new age of lynching. Its passive aggressive in nature and can generate lots of interest from a computer or cell phone by just clicking a few buttons. I dont think any one individual necessarily deserves that kind of abuse or attention. However, there may be a slim chance to keep some people on their toes, knowing these acts can be captured at any time with or without them knowing.
Jim July 06, 2011 at 01:05 AM
It is possible this is just the first time he got caught
Jim June 09, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Give me a break, he deserves the attention for what he did. A picture is worth a thousand words
Kathy June 11, 2012 at 06:51 AM
Was Nathan wrong in committing this act? Yes Did he make a bad Choice? Yes How many teenagers make bad Choices? Too many to count, just another learning process to becoming an adult, unfortunately. I really believe that FB and Twitter is just another avenue for Bully's to continue their Bullying. We as Parents try to raise our children to the best of our abilities, well most of us do. However, our children will make some bad Choices, some more serious than others but the Parents cannot be held responsible for everything bad choice they make. It is apparent that the Public Bullies felt they had the right to try and punish Nathan and his Family. A more appropriate punishment would of been for the Public to stay out of it and have the Boy do several hours of community service. I would like to see a stiff punishment for the Bullies that are on the Internet. These are hateful, self-righteous and ignorant people that like to truly hurt and destroy people.

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