digital fingerprints

Doxing neo-Nazis is the new outing. But is that such a good thing?

One of the ongoing fallouts from the Charlottesville protests has been the systematic identification of individual white supremacist marchers, driven in large part by @YesYou’reRacist on Twitter. The effort has led to some low comic moments: Despite Peter Cvjetanovic being captured on camera carrying a tiki torch and shouting furiously, he insisted, without much reason of being believed, that he was “not the angry racist that you see in the photo.” 

As the shame campaign shows, doxing has become the new outing. With so many digital fingerprints available, it’s increasingly easy to sleuth out the background of questionable characters and shame them in the public space. Doxing and outing share similar philosophies–some things are so bad that the expectation of privacy gets tossed out the window–but there are some critical differences.

For one, outing was usually confined to high-profile public figures: mostly religious leaders, politicians and actors, many of them living in a glass closet while doing damage to other gay people. In particular, it was aimed at hypocrites who spouted homophobia publicly, like now-former Reps. Edward Schrock and Jim McCrery, while giving every indication of being very comfortable with gay sex personally. (To say nothing of Aaron Schock.) Celebrities were sometimes targeted because their popularity could change attitudes.

Related: Sh*t show of the highest order: Twitter was NOT having Trump’s racist rally in Phoenix

But ordinary people marching in gay pride parades? Not so much. In fact, it’s the right wing that’s been most engaged in doxing gay people, often those working for Catholic organizations. In one notorious case, an official working for Catholic Relief Services was outed by a right-wing group based on his social media postings. The justification: He was in violation of Catholic teaching (even though he wasn’t Catholic.) The official ended up resigning.

That’s the slippery slope of doxing (and, to a lesser extent, outing). Doxing often goes beyond mere identification to reveal much more personal details, including phone numbers and addresses, opening up endless possibilities for harassment. Harassment is quite different from shaming someone who deserves it.

The outrage that drives these actions is in the eyes of the beholder. Is it okay to call someone out by name for being a white supremacist? If you’re marching in a public rally, you don’t have much expectation of privacy. But is it okay to target his workplace? One Charlottesville marcher was fired from his job at a hot dog stand in Berkeley after it was identified as his employer.

It’s hard to work up any sympathy for the loathsome characters chanting anti-Semitic and homophobic slogans in Charlottesville. But sometimes easy cases still raise hard questions. It feels good to see white supremacists get their comeuppance.

The issue is whether the means for doing so are the right ones.

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