Anons of Higher Moral Development?

Quick Recap: The Rehtaeh Parson’s case has been one of high interest, controversy and media coverage. Her death three days after a suicide attempt on April 7th, 2013 was believed to be a result of severe harassment after being allegedly raped in November 2011 by four boys. The infamous collective hacker group Anonymous has intervened and made it public they have information on the identities and confessions of the four rapists that has been made available to the RCMP.

Anonymous has a reputation for being a vigilante group whose involvement isn’t always welcome or seen as helpful. Those opposed to their actions would probably reference the Amanda Todd case. Proponents would likely cite the Steubenville Rape case.

Anonymous are not always the same people acting with each involvement. Therefore I think each instance of involvement needs to be looked at for that particular situation and how those acting under Anonymous handled the situation. In Rehtaeh Parson’s case—I support the involvement of Anonymous, largely on moral grounds. While morality may seem like the least likely notion to base support for a group of hackers on for some people, it makes perfect sense to me when theory is placed with the situation. I’m posing a view of Anonymous’ actions through the lens of moral development.

Have you ever heard of Lawrence Kohlberg, or more importantly his six stages of moral development? Perhaps Heinz’s dilemma rings a bell? If not, that’s ok, basically it’s a predominant theory on moral development that Kohlberg created and initially tested in his famous experiment in 1958. It’s been repeated many times with variations over the years, and the findings still show a predictable pattern. The theory is divided into three levels of morality and each level is characterized by two stages that explain the thinking and mentality behind moral reasoning. For the purposes of this argument the second and third level of moral rational are focused on, which are

II.  Conventional  Morality and

III. Post-Conventional Morality

Conventional morality is characterized by stages three and four, good interpersonal relationships and maintaining the social order respectively. Post-conventional morality consists of stages five and six, social construct + individual rights, and universal principles respectively. So it looks something like this


Individuals typically enter stage three around their teens, and moral reasoning during this stage is characterized by living up to expectations of family and community, and ‘good’ behavior is defined by having good motives and feelings i.e. love and caring for others. Issues are looked at according to a person’s traits and motives. People in this stage also tend to believe that their reasoning would be shared by everyone else as well.

In stage four is characterized by becoming more concerned with society at whole. People in this stage emphasis the belief and rationale for situations based on obeying laws, respecting authority, and maintaining society order despite intentions or motives.

Interestingly (or alarmingly if you ask me), It’s argued people stagnate at stage four and don’t develop into the two stages left.

Stage five is the mark of a move into post-conventional morality. It’s characterized by focusing more on what makes a good society, and not just a smoothly functioning one. Society is thought of in theoretical ways, different groups and values are acknowledged but there is a thought that everyone would agree on basic rights and democratic procedures for changing laws that are unfair or do not benefit society.

The last stage people are working toward this conception of a good society. People in this stage believe in rights that are equal and universal that serve achieve justice. The main difference between this stage and five is that stage six is not against civil disobedience if a law is not in line with the principles of justice. Basically these universal principles and rights of justice transcend civil laws that are not in line with these principles.

In light of this theory I would argue that, in Rehtaeh’s case, Anonymous acts out of a higher stage of morality. To them, the justice system and those who enforce it failed Rehtaeh, she was not served justice, and she was not treated in those universal principles a good society needs. Their methods may be considered disobedient or deviant, but they still serve a higher purpose based on justice and demand those who did wrong be held accountable for their actions. To Anonymous, not pressing investigation, making arrests and having a jury decide the fate of the alleged rapists is a slap in the face to justice, and it also enables and inexplicitly promotes rape culture.

The group explicitly stated in their press release that they did not wish to seek vigilante justice, and I believe they truly don’t. Anonymous did not release the information and evidence they found to the public. They made the public aware by describing the kind of evidence they found, and also let the public know that the information was made available to the police. If vigilante justice was their motive, they probably would have just identified the boys they believed to be the rapists, similar to what happened in the Amanda Todd case. It shows they do not want to take matters into their own hands completely, they are still letting law enforcement handle it but  are demanding  they do exactly that; act on information and evidence.

Anonymous believes the evidence they have found to be incriminating, but they did not take it upon themselves to make that decision completely and present it to the public. They recognize that the best way to achieve justice is to still present the evidence to authorities to investigate. I would argue they intend to pursue justice through the structured vessels and procedures of the justice system because they went to the police with the information.

Yes Anonymous went out of their way to find information on the boys, but as far as we know, it was public information that is available to anyone. If someone had called in this information to Crime Stoppers the police would be required to investigate any information given, so why shouldn’t it be the same with the method Anonymous has chosen? It is still information that could lead to the alleged rape of a young girl.

Anonymous’ involvement has also arranged and helped support the protests for the RCMP to re-open the investigation. Overall this instance of intervention has sparked the interest and efforts of citizens to fight for justice of a young girl and called for law enforcement to correctly do their job; which is to present the facts and act on them. The involvement in this situation has raised a crucial question that if citizens or groups like Anonymous do not become involved and demand answers and action when law enforcement fails us, when they neglect to provide justice, then who will?


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