I‘ve long been intrigued by the seemingly large, savvy and impactful hacktivist group, Anonymous, for their efforts to bring shame and punishment to America’s most hated villains and institutions. Before, when I read headlines about their attacks in passing, I chuckled to myself in amusement, ignorantly approving of their work. I didn’t sympathize with the people they went after, so I felt they deserved every piece of vigilante justice that came their way.
But this week, when I read more closely about their forthcoming exposing of 1000 alleged Ku Klux Klan members and the flops the organization has made in the past, my views on Anonymous changed. Their work exposing people online illustrates that this is just a form of Internet terrorism. It is not a force of good against evil and no one (good or bad) deserves that kind of online abuse.
As consumers and producers in the digital age, we have to draw the line between sharing information the public will find valuable and/or entertaining versus spreading data that interferes with people’s Constitutional rights. It is imperative that we do this because our safety as individuals depends on it.
At the outset, politicians who are alleged members of the KKK are hardly a sympathetic group. But I have to be skeptical of Anonymous’ work in “Operation KKK.” Already, their roll out of the project this week has been extremely sloppy. Anonymous has mysteriously been distancing itself from doxing, or the release of private information on the Internet with malicious intent, earlier this week that was alleging to be part of Operation KKK.
The people they’ve allegedly indicated as being KKK members thus far aren’t compatible with the hate group’s ideology, based on their track records, either. As Goldie Taylor smartly pointed out in her recent op-ed at the Daily Beast, Senator Johnny Isakson, a Democrat turned Republican from Georgia, has a history of signing into law childcare and education programs that have helped scores of lower income African Americans (particularly women) become more independent and socially mobile.
Strictly from an ideological and PR standpoint, it’s not even possible or comprehensible why some of these politicians would align themselves with a hate group.
Then there’s the blatant hole in Anonymous’ methodology for accusing these politicians and police officers of being involved with the KKK. The hacktivist group has stated that they found these names by searching people listed at various KKK websites.
However, politicians like Isakson, Senator Tom Tillis of North Carolina and Mayor Madeline Rogero of Knoxville, TN, probably didn’t register their information with these websites out of self-interest. They were probably registered by people whom were either looking for revenge or were trying to recruit unsuspecting local celebrities by spamming them with KKK propaganda. On top of that, people rarely use their real names when registering themselves with KKK websites anyway, making it extremely difficult to find who’s actually involved with the KKK based off of those records.
Anonymous has been hopelessly wrong about their accusations in the past. In 2014, Anonymous falsely accused a Missouri police officer of murdering Michael Brown. The officer had nothing to do with the murder and had never even been to Ferguson before. He was bombarded with death threats as a result of Anonymous’ misguided work.
There are countless other examples unrelated to Anonymous that explain why doxing should never be practiced, as well. The common thread among virtually all of them is that the other victims usually suffered the same fate as that poor cop from Missouri.
You may remember when Spike Lee caught his own fever for vigilante justice to avenge Brown’s death. The widely celebrated actor and director retweeted a post revealing the home address of what he thought was George Zimmerman’s address to Lee’s thousands of followers.
However, his actions quickly backfired when it was revealed that the address belonged to an elderly couple with a son that shared Zimmerman’s name. Overwhelmed by the threats and media attention, the couple was driven out of their home and had their lawsuit against Lee thrown out by a judge. Only $10,000 was awarded to the couple in a settlement with Lee for their suffering.
Equally horrifying was the plight of various female journalists, game developers, actresses and media personalities who were doxed during the height of Gamergate. Because of their work speaking out on gender issues in the gaming industry, high-profile women like Game Designer Zoe Quinn, Blogger Brianna Wu, Actress Felicia Day and Media Critic Anita Sarkeesian were all attacked online. Quinn and Sarkeesian’s abuse was so intense that they also had to flee their homes due to the immense rape and death threats they were receiving.
Clearly, there has to be a better way than this to expose injustice online. Furthermore, there needs to be more severe ways to punish perpetrators for this horrible crime than in years past. On the surface, doxing may seem like a humorous way to stake revenge on reviled public figures and institutions.
Still, the way that this practice has consistently made innocent people suffer is unacceptable, and it only detracts from the more admirable and ethical forms of resistance and investigative journalism being conducted elsewhere.