Holding a mob to account has been almost impossible - until now. Vancouver is extraordinary because it has not only the will, but the means, to name and shame those who rioted after the Stanley Cup loss last week. There are websites in which the formerly anonymous rioters are to be seen (perhaps forever), happily looting, burning and smashing, in pictures and videos. Their names are provided. Any employer, decades from now, can run a quick Google check and find out something the individuals may wish had never happened.
A world without personal accountability is a vision of hell. Downtown Vancouver was hellish (probably an outer circle, though with an abundance of fires). It was as if the supposed anonymity of the Internet had been transferred to the crowds of thousands, who felt invisible, all-powerful and therefore beyond punishment. (Some clung to this belief in invisibility even while giving interviews on camera to CBC-TV or the Vancouver Sun.) And now the Internet and other modern technologies, including the ubiquitous cellphone camera, are exploding that anonymity, and bringing the rioters out into the harsh light where they can be held responsible.
A court of law in a big city is probably not as powerful an expression of society's disgust and disappointment with the rioters as the Internet, in which individuals may be tied, as it were, to a post in the public square, and pelted with putrid words. The Vancouver Police Department even warned against vigilantism, saying the public should "resist the temptation to take justice into their own hands." At times it seems as if one mob is chasing another.
It was in Vancouver that the fatal police tasering of an unarmed man at the airport was recorded on a cellphone camera, and police everywhere learned they are being watched. And now the public is being taught the same lesson. Young rioters have been fired from jobs. A teenage water-polo player has been suspended from a national team. He spoke convincingly of his shame, but his surgeon father felt so worried by the vehement backlash that he temporarily closed his clinic. The lesson of personal accountability for the individuals in a mob is not always pretty. But a lesson it is.