October 12, 2017
Following the wake-up-call that was the Unite the Right rally and subsequent chaos in Charlottesville, many Americans wondered what they could do to help suppress the growing and emboldened White Nationalist movement.
Doxing is the act of publishing another’s personal information online as a means of public shaming. Often, doxing is an act of retribution against someone that feels wronged, perhaps a scorned lover or a feuding message board user. The information published might be an address, phone number, or place of employment. Some have even gone so far as to publish social security numbers.
Often, the moral defense of doxing is that it is a warning to the world about a danger someone poses. Of course, this can often be petty and unjustified (such as an “I don’t want anyone to date this loser” sort of mentality). But what about when the person is an actual danger to society? And what about when he/she subscribes to a dangerous ideology like Nazism?
Doxing Nazis and members of various hate groups has turned into a sort of vigilante justice. A casual Twitter user might publically identify a rally-goer, and anti-hate group organizations or individuals may compile the information on a website, with the eventual goal of turning the Nazi into a social pariah.
When it comes to Nazis, doxing is ethical as it attempts to suppress an abhorrent and dangerous ideology. But it should be left to those that have studied the movement, not casual vigilantes on Twitter. When outsourced to the public, mistakes will be made, and those mistakes will spread through the media, further empowering the neo-Nazi movement.
What does doxing look like?
Doxing White Supremacists didn’t begin with Charlottesville. Daryle Lemont Jackson spent his life considering ways to counter hate speech and organized racism, which culminated on his website One People’s Project. The site offers detailed descriptions of connections to White Nationalism and personal information, including addresses, phone numbers and photos found on social media. Jackson’s motto is that “All’s fair when you’re fighting hate.”
One People’s Project exposes a wide variety of personalities, from high profile members of the KKK to outspoken radio personalities. The authors use harsh invectives against the profiled individuals. One young man from Asheville, North Carolina was outed as a Jimmy Johns employee who recently joined the military. The author’s ultimate goal is to keep him out of the military because a military man shouldn’t promote hate. He said, “You can’t really trust the guy to protect the rights and freedoms of the people he made clear with his activities that he hates and wishes dead.”
These profiles are substantiated with links and videos. Most are tied to evidence from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s intelligence report. Only moderators can publish information; no comment section or message board is tied to the site. Those working for One People’s Project have put in their due diligence and are careful to only publish accurate, substantiated information.
Once the information is shared, the public then decides how to react, if they come across the information. Possible results range from job termination to harassment.
Doxing from Charlottesville
Logan Smith is responsible for the now famous Twitter handle “Yes, You’re a Racist.” Following the Unite the Right rally, he tweeted pictures of the protestors asking his followers to identify them.
The pictures spread exponentially, and identifications were made.
One man was disowned from his family. In other cases, the public demanded that the University of Nevada and Washington State University dismiss students caught attending the rally (the schools decried racism but did not kick the individuals out).
Cole White worked at Top Dog in Berkeley, California before he was identified at the rally. Following a storm of negative press, Top Dog reported to the public that White no longer worked for them. They said he resigned, but they refused to say if they would have fired him had he not.
Stories such as these resonate with White Supremacists, revealing the repercussions resulting from attending public rallies. But one mistake can cancel out the many beneficial acts. The danger in outsourcing doxing with Twitter handles like “Yes, You’re a Racist” lies in misidentification.
Potential Positive Outcomes
Like many, I felt a deep sense of gratification upon seeing high profile Neo-Nazi Chris Cantwell sobbing on camera in fear of being arrested by police or killed by an incensed public. I first encountered Cantwell in the Vice News Report on Charlottesville where he was full of braggadocio and swagger, confident that “Many more [like Heather Heyer] will die before we’re finished.” The notoriety he gained from the video (in which he appeared voluntarily) helped cause his arrest and will likely follow him around for years to come.
Even prior to Charlottesville, Cantwell had been doxed. Hundreds of public and online indiscretions are detailed, painting him as an often strategic but frequently out-of-control sociopath. In reading how he treated women and how his messages of hate spread to his followers, I was happy that he’d had his life (hopefully) ruined.
But is it too simplistic for us to celebrate a Nazi being publically shamed online? Aren’t we dipping to their level?
Doxing Nazis attempts to achieve three significant goals. First is to make their lives more difficult (job loss, alienation, etc). Second is to send a warning to those considering Nazi participation. Third, is to build awareness of the real problem White Supremacy poses.
If the Nazis are afraid of being publically shamed, they’re less likely to be aggressive in their public and online behavior.
Questions surface when we learn about the rise of history’s most destructive fascist empires. How did the people let this happen? Why didn’t anyone try to stop it? Doxing sites such as One People’s Project achieve a significant utilitarian result—allowing a deep dive inside the present day Nazi movement. Awareness of hate groups helps foster resistance, hopefully making the United States a safer, stronger, and more compassionate nation.
I spoke with a conservative relative in Florida about the ethics of doxing. He said he’s scared it will happen to anyone that supports Trump. “We’re all terrified of being called out as racist,” he said.
Because of one well-publicized misidentification of a Nazi, many of the positive outcomes of doxing have been mitigated, helping “confirm” my relative’s fear.
Publications such as Brietbart thrive on doxing gone wrong. Kyle Quinn, an Arkansas professor, was 1,100 miles from Charlottesville during the rally. He was misidentified in a picture from the rally and subsequently received hateful messages and death threats. The photo of the rally showed a man wearing an Arkansas Engineering t-shirt. Quinn is an Engineering professor at Arkansas. Amateur sleuths were quick to pair the two similar looking men.
When it comes to identifying Nazis from photos found on social media, mistakes are not surprising. According to recent studies, people misidentify similar looking people between 10-30 percent of the time. When you add the thrill that comes from potentially “busting” someone for being at a Nazi rally, the likelihood of mistakes increases.
I understand why this story would resonate with the conservative community as Quinn’s misidentification supports the “any of us could be next” narrative. And won’t that fear lead to a loss of free speech?
@YesYoureRacist has good intentions and had some positive impact, but the Twitter handle shouldn’t have asked the public to do the sleuthing for them. Not every participant of a Nazi rally needs to be identified. A small number of properly identified individuals will have an equally chilling impact on the movement.
Two main arguments exist against doxing Nazis are usually brought up.
Many state that the members of the Unite the Right protest had proper documentation allowing them the right to assemble. Why should they be publically shamed when most of them didn’t break any laws?
I would answer that the Nazis knew what they were getting into. Filming someone in a public place is not illegal. As long as the information shared is not combined with a threat or call to violence, the online publishers are well within their rights. Plus, the various White Supremacist groups warned the participants that by attending such a high profile rally, they’d be doxed.
Like most people, I’m fully aware that the choices I make in public could affect my career. When individuals chose the socially unacceptable lifestyle of Nazism or chose to walk with them as a show of unity, they must accept the repercussions.
The second argument is that doxing will only serve to embolden the Nazis further. Shouldn’t we be rehabilitating hate-filled individuals, not shaming them?
The further the Nazis are pushed outside of mainstream society, the more dangerous they might become. Doxing likely makes them angrier and more likely to incite violence. So why dox rather than invest in programs that serve to educate and rehabilitate those that join a hate movement? I’m all for rehabilitation, but it would only work following a bout of shame.
A young man that spends time on neo-Nazi websites will lose sight of the repercussions associated with joining the movement. I looked at some of these sites, and they are fearless, full of the sort of hate filled enthusiasm and posturing that couldn’t exist in a classroom or workplace. Echo chambers on the internet foster beliefs. Real life consequences must be had for spreading messages of hate and intolerance.
In modern day Germany, it is socially unacceptable to make any display that might even be suspected of being tied to the Nazi movement. The Germans have first hand knowledge of how their order could devolve. The government can’t stop hate from spreading; it takes citizens to stand up and challenge ideals that promote intolerance.
Before it was taken down, an individual wrote on the Nazi website The Daily Stormer that if choosing between attending a rally and losing income from being publically shamed, he couldn’t attend the rally.
This shows how doxing Nazis correctly, with no room for error, serves the significant purpose of creating fear in the movement. If done haphazardly, stories of misidentification will spread across social media.
Nazi movement aside, misidentification also has the potential to ruin someone’s life, leading to death threats, violence, and even murder. Amateur sleuths should either keep their findings to themselves or send possible identifications to the experts via private message.
It’s easy to get carried away when standing up to a hate movement. But, ultimately, our goals should be to keep the movement at bay and reform those that have subscribed. When done responsibly and with best intentions in mind, doxing can serve that purpose.