Mere hours after boingboing posted a video of a middle-aged woman petting a cat and then tossing it in a nearby trash receptacle and closing the lid, the users of 4chan identified her as Mary Bale, 50, of Coventry, England. They also found her Facebook, her place of work, her boss’s name and phone number, tracked down her residence, and posted it all, including a Google map of her address. When they have a target, Anonymous don’t fuck around.
Here’s the video that sent Anonymous on Bale with their internetty pitchforks and torches (action starts about 0:22 in):
Considering that 4chan is responsible for lolcats, I suppose it’s not surprising that the trickster nerds of /b/ would come to the defense of a kitty. And, at first read, the cat lover in me wants to applaud Anonymous for tracking Bale down. However, at some point, my sense of justice kicks in. Since this sort of vigilante justice has an icky tendency to be a little unjust, what with the mob mentality and the lack of due process, someone innocent could easily be hurt, and someone guilty could receive a punishment far more severe than her crime. The furor created over that video led to death threats and other menacing comments that concerned police enough to place Bale under their protection.
Please don’t mistake me as defending Mary Bale. Her defense? “I don’t know what came over me, but I suddenly thought it would be funny. I never thought it would be trapped. I expected it to wriggle out of the bin.” Well, it didn’t. The cat, Lola, was found 15 hours after she was trashed, when her owner heard her meowing from inside the container. What if Lola’s owners had been away on vacation? Given what I could see from the footage, there wasn’t enough trash in the receptacle for the cat to have found her way out of there without her owner’s help. Hardeeharhar. Awesome joke, Mary Bale.
So, okay, in this case it sounds like this woman did indeed commit a boneheaded and cruel act that set an angry mob of cat lovers upon her, and while she sounds slightly regretful, she remains a little clueless as to why so many people were so upset: “I really don’t see what everyone is getting so excited about – it’s just a cat.”
But as angry as her actions and her cluelessness about their cruelty make me, enabling a massive, collective threat to ruin (or end) a woman’s life based on surveillance camera footage unaccompanied by sound or context is not okay. Good on Anonymous for tracking down an animal abuser—too many abusers go unpunished—but it should have ended with reporting Bale to police. You are legion, you are Anonymous, but you’re not friggin’ Batman.