n. The exposure or punishment of online lawbreakers by individuals not connected with the police or other legal authorities.
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Self-appointed sheriffs scan eBay and Yahoo auctions looking for fraud. When they find it — or at least when they think they've found it — they warn buyers or make outrageously high bids themselves in order to end the auction and prevent potential victims from falling into the trap. Elsewhere, private crusaders cruise Internet chat rooms for pedophiles and report their findings to law enforcement — or even expose them online. And hackers release programs into cyberspace that repair the damage done by malicious computer viruses. …

Just as in the real world, cybervigilantism doesn't always work out for the best. Executives at eBay argue that vigilantes — well intentioned as they might be — can wrongly disrupt legitimate deals.
—John Schwartz, “On the Web, Vengeance Is Mine (and Mine),” The New York Times, March 28, 2004
Last December a notorious spammer, Alan Ralsky, gave an interview in the course of which he mentioned his home in West Bloomfield, Michigan. The interview was posted on Slashdot, the leading geek website, and some enterprising reader found Ralsky's snail-mail address in a database.

Slashdot readers then subscribed him to thousands of catalogues, mailing lists, information requests, etc. The results, according to security expert Bruce Schneier, were devastating: "Within weeks he was getting hundreds of pounds of junk mail per day and was unable to find his real mail amongst the deluge." …

Now I'm not advocating this kind of cyber-vigilantism. But I suspect that if it were to become widespread, the issue of spam would suddenly appear on the radar screens of our politicians.
—John Naughton, “Mailboxing clever,” Manchester Guardian Weekly, April 30, 2003
1995 (earliest)
The indecency standard will create a climate of cybervigilantism," he says. "Anyone running a service and anyone logging on has to worry that someone out there will find something they say is indecent. If they take you to court, you're facing a $ 100,000 fine and up to two years in prison.
—Todd Copilevitz, “Censoring cyberspace centers on semantics,” The Dallas Morning News, December 17, 1995
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