‘We Will Come for You’: How Fear of Terrorism Spurs Online Mobs

by Amanda Taub – New York Times

Less than a day after the worst terrorist attack in Sri Lanka’s history, thousands of Sri Lankans were consumed with vitriol, outrage and fear. Their community was threatened, they believed. Something must be done.
But some settled on a target who was not a perpetrator of the Easter bombings, not a sympathizer, not even someone who lived in Sri Lanka. He was Thusiyan Nandakumar, a doctor and part-time journalist living thousands of miles away in suburban London. He stared at his phone in bafflement and terror as thousands of threats rolled in.
“I know where you live,” one message said. “We will come for you terrorist low life to teach you a lesson.”
“If I see you anywhere,” read another, “I will cut your throat.”
In Sri Lanka, angry mobs attacked Muslims after the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, and the island nation braced for further violence. But in the echo chambers of social media, Dr. Nandakumar — who is not Muslim — was singled out as an enemy. And the threats kept coming.
By Wednesday, the outrage had spread to mainstream politics. Sri Lanka’s opposition party, led by the former strongman president Mahinda Rajapaksa, held a news conference and denounced Dr. Nandakumar by name…

By Wednesday, the outrage had spread to mainstream politics. Sri Lanka’s opposition party, led by the former strongman president Mahinda Rajapaksa, held a news conference and denounced Dr. Nandakumar by name.

This surge of rage and harassment directed at a doctor living abroad may seem inexplicable. But social scientists say it reveals the impulses that lead people, particularly when they feel weak or threatened, to band together to punish a perceived transgressor — and the ways that social media has encouraged those impulses…
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