Feb. 9, 2007 — -- There's a new brand of law and order in the age of the Internet. For example, a woman scorned can catch, try, convict and punish the accused, and do it with the whole world watching -- all from her home computer.
Even a minor offense like stealing your neighbor's newspaper might land you in the court of public humiliation, also known as YouTube.
Did you ever leave a small tip in a restaurant? Or no tip at all? Bitterwaitress.com allows servers to rat out low-tipping customers, and celebrities like Nick Lachey and Cameron Diaz have been burned on this Web site.
The Internet can help catch and bring to justice a criminal the police view as too insignificant to pursue. The Web site EvanWasHere.com/StolenSidekick includes the story of a stolen cell phone: a $300 e-mail and text-messaging device called a Sidekick.
Evan Guttman started the site after his friend Ivanna (who didn't want her last name used) left her Sidekick in a New York City taxi last spring, and quickly discovered that a teenage girl had gotten hold of the gadget and was using her account.
"She was sending all my pictures to all her friends," said Ivanna. "I didn't want her to have my e-mails, everything."
They asked for the device back, even offered a reward, but the girl and her family turned them down. "I talked to them online, they e-mailed me, said, 'Listen, you know, finders keepers, losers weepers,' basically," said Guttman. "And, you know … who does that?"
Guttman and his friend had Internet access to everything the girl did on the device and all her personal information, so they threatened to use it against her.
Guttman said he told the girl, "I'm gonna put your information on the Internet."
"She said, 'Go ahead,'" he said. "She gave me permission, so I put the pictures on the Internet. I made a whole Web site."
That Web site, telling the story of the girl's refusal to return the Sidekick and the police's reluctance to get involved, helped form an electronic posse. Those who read the Web site figured out where the girl lived, and some even drove by her building and shouted insults. And a band named Blind Routine even recorded a theme song.
But if trying to catch someone who has done you wrong seems too complicated, there are people like Mylissa (who didn't want her last name used) who will do it for you.
When Mylissa discovered her boyfriend had had an affair, she had no trouble sentencing him to public embarrassment and humiliation. Mylissa forwarded all calls to his phone number to a gay porn line, and she even sent an e-mail under his name, confessing his secret love, to everyone in his address book.
"I loved him a lot," she said. "That's why it hurt so bad when he cheated. … It's really hard to move on until you see that person experience a little bit of that pain."
Mylissa has created her own Web site to help other women entrap their wayward significant others, and then exact public revenge. It's called MakeHimPay.net.
"[If] women … are dating, and men cheat on them, and string them along and lie to them, there's no legal recourse. What's left?" she asked.
Mylissa's Web site offers services like allowing women to listen in as another woman tries to seduce the unsuspecting husband or boyfriend. Once a man's cheating heart is exposed, you can pay a fee to publish all his most embarrassing information on the Web. Pictures of nasty retribution -- cars, homes and boats vandalized -- are posted on the site along with stories of revenge.
"Most women will find enough humor on the Web site where … they won't need to get revenge themselves," said Mylissa. "You know, it offers enough of that taste of revenge."
And if the man isn't actually cheating? Mylissa said she doesn't worry about that. "I really don't feel bad for men anymore. I don't feel bad." She also said she doesn't think people would use her site for truly malicious acts.
"I'm doubting that people are going to find my Web site for those purposes."
But it does happen, and there can be a real downside to anonymous vigilante justice. Todd Hollis is a lawyer from Pittsburgh who was appalled to find himself convicted on the Internet of a "crime" he said he didn't commit. He said he felt "helpless."
A woman Hollis had dated briefly -- and thought he had broken up with amicably -- turned out to be one of the sources of these kinds of postings. He said the woman claimed that he had herpes, was bisexual, and used the fact that he donated a kidney to his mother as a pickup line.
"I didn't do it, you know, as a pickup line for women," he said. "I did it to save my mother … and the fact that somebody would attempt to mock that relationship that my mother and I share, is completely reprehensible."
Bob Garfield, host of the National Public Radio show "On the Media," said, "Here's some really … sound advice for 2007. Don't make any mistakes ever, anywhere. Because even if there are no pictures of them -- if there's any witnesses -- people now can take e-revenge, and post their … bad experience with you for anybody to see … This can be humiliating, or worse."
When the Web site owner refused to take down the nasty gossip about Hollis that he said was untrue, he gave up on Internet justice and went for the real thing. He sued.
"This is not a joke for me," he said. "This is my life."
It also turned out not to be a joke for the young woman who stole that Sidekick. Guttman's Web site finally goaded police into action. The girl was arrested, and Ivanna got her Sidekick back, although, in a display of Internet leniency, she did ultimately refuse to press charges.
"You know, some people call me an Internet vigilante," said Guttman. "Other people called me, you know, just a blogger that did what's right."