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When the Internet Attacks: Cyber Vigilantes

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Vigilantism has grown softer since the days of Bernard Goetz -- infamous for perforating a group of would-be muggers on a Manhattan subway train in 1984 -- but the stick it carries is bigger than ever, and the crimes it punishes, much smaller. Given the choice between catching a bullet in the lung or being publicly shamed and harassed on the internet for years, well -- I'd probably still take the latter, but I'd have to think about it for a second. And stories like these are the reason why:

Dog Poop Girl

The last place you want to offend a lot of people in public is South Korea. That's a lesson that dog poop girl had to learn the hard way. In 2005, when her tiny lapdog decided to use the floor of a subway car to go number poo, fellow passengers demanded she clean up the mess. Someone even whipped out a tissue to make the job easier for her. When she refused, someone whipped out a camera phone. The ensuing fracas, in which she reportedly became belligerent, was caught on camera and distributed on the internet, and quickly became something of a national sensation. She was recognized within days, her identity was revealed, and every shred of personal information that could be gleaned about her was dissected online, in an extremely public sort of shaming. Thus branded with a digital scarlet letter, she quit her university, and has since published an apology.

The Case of the Stolen Sidekick

When Evan Guttman's friend left her Sidekick II in a New York City cab, they briefly held out hope that it would be returned by some kind stranger. After all, such things do happen in the Big Apple, despite international misconceptions about the temperament of New Yorkers. But such was not the case. Repeated texts sent to the lost phone were ignored, and Evan and his friend had almost given the thing up for lost when they realized that thanks to the way T-Mobile's Sidekicks store their information -- all emails, IMs, pictures etc are uploaded to the T-Mobile website -- they could track the thief's actions online. Soon they had emails from and pictures of the thief, a young woman from Queens named Sasha, and demanded that the phone be returned. (At this point, Guttman notes, it became stolen -- when the owner of a lost object demands its return but the finder keeps it anyway, the crime is called "petit larceny.")

guttman.jpgSo Guttman set up a webpage, posting a brief account of what happened, along with pictures of the girl and her family. Within days, he'd been linked to on Digg, Gizmodo and Slashdot, and he was fielding thousands of emails while the page received millions of views. His story had touched a national nerve, and people bitter about similar experiences of their own became invested in helping Guttman and his friend find justice, if not the stolen phone. Soon, the thief's MySpace page and email account were being bombarded with hate messages. Her address and phone number were uncovered, and people started driving by her house, shouting "thief!" and calling her family. Finally, Guttman got a message from someone claiming to be Sasha's brother, a military policeman, who issued a few veiled threats. This too was posted on Guttman's website, and soon the military brother was being shamed as well, by the general public as well as by fellow military. There are many more twists and turns to this fascinating little tale, but in the end the girl was arrested and Guttman got his friend's sidekick back -- though she had already bought a new one by that time. The story, covered in the New York Times and featured on 20/20 and MSNBC, has to be one of the most comprehensive and withering public shamings to date.

"Wow your a moron," the Swiped XBox Story

"If you have stolen merchandise, don't contact the person it was stolen from," cyber-vigilante Jesse McPherson wisely counsels. "It's just not smart." This is the tale of someone who did just that, and ended up looking like a moron.

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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fun
How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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