In the aftermath of the disturbing neo-Nazi and White Supremacist march in Charlottesville, some Twitterati have taken to doxxing the participants. Doxxing (or doxing) refers to revealing the real names and personal information (such as home addresses) of people whose online identities are unknown. While we receive a certain amount of satisfaction seeing these racists unmasked and fired, the practice itself is questionable.
First of all, it’s not always accurate. Flash back to 2012, in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s shooting by George Zimmerman. Film director Spike Lee tweeted what he thought was Zimmerman’s home address to his then-240,000 Twitter followers. But he was wrong. That address actually belonged to septuagenarians Elaine and David McClain of Sanford, FL. Mrs. McClain did have a son named George Zimmerman but he was not the one involved in the Trayvon Martin case and he had not lived at that address for several years. But that made no difference as the McClains were subjected to threats and intimidation.
The same kind of error has now occurred with the Charlottesville march participants. Specifically, one of the protestors was identified as Kyle Quinn, who works at the University of Arkansas Engineering Research Center. Quinn was inundated with harassing messages, his home address was posted online, and crowds of people demanded that he be fired.
Here’s the problem: Quinn was nowhere near the march. He was 1,100 miles away at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art with his wife and a friend. Armchair Sherlocks had misidentified him because a march participant with a similar build was wearing an “Arkansas Engineering” T-shirt. That’s circumstantial evidence of the flimsiest kind but remember, we’re not dealing with investigative journalists or FBI profilers here, we’re dealing with people who have access to Google image search.
This wasn’t the only doxxing misstep related to the Charlottesville march. One picture posted for identification wasn’t even from the protest! The person in the picture was rightly identified as YouTube prankster Joey Salads but it was from one of Salads’ old videos in which he conducted a “social experiment” by wearing a Nazi armband to a Trump rally to see what reaction it might provoke. (Salads was on vacation in Jamaica at the time of the Charlottesville demonstration.)
A separate issue, however, is the rightness of the practice altogether. Allow me to share with you an incident that occurred just a few months ago.
A prominent White Supremacist’s mother lives in the small town of Whitefish, Montana (yes, that’s its name), and he would occasionally stay there with her. The town, which depends largely on tourism for its income, decided to distance itself from its most notorious part-time resident’s beliefs. They made an official statement and contemplated staging a protest in front of a building owned by the White Supremacist’s mother. The mother contacted Tanya Gersh, a local real estate agent (who happens to be Jewish) for advice about how to best manage the situation. Gersh suggested that the mother might sell the building and donate the proceeds to a local human rights group. This advice did not sit well with the woman’s son who, claiming that the real estate agent was trying to extort his mother, mobilized a campaign of harassment against Gersh and her family.
The Gershes received more than 700 threatening phone calls, voicemails and emails. A neo-Nazi website threatened to hold an armed anti-Semitic protest in Whitefish. Tanya was told that she “would be driven to the brink of suicide.” Her clients were urged to dismiss her for “unprofessional, illegal, and anti-white conduct.” Messages directed towards her 12-year-old son via Twitter said such things as, “Psst kid, theres a free Xbox One inside this oven.”
In the end, Gersh had to give up her real estate practice for fear of exposing her clients to harassment and she needed to start seeing a trauma therapist twice a week. Ultimately, Gersh filed a lawsuit for “invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of Montana’s Anti-Intimidation Act.”
It should be noted that the White Supremacists worded the call to arms against Gersh very carefully. They said in no uncertain terms that participants were not to threaten any acts of violence, only to “make your opinions known. Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda.” Nevertheless, I think you’ll agree that the results were intimidation and terror.
And there’s the problem. If we doxx our enemies, are we committing (or at least abetting) an act of intimidation and terror? Are we drawing the target that others will use to harass and traumatize a neo-Nazi’s innocent elderly parents or 12-year-old child? We can justify that “they deserve it” but remember, they think that we deserve it!
The fact that they doxx doesn’t necessarily mean that we should doxx. We don’t say, “Our enemies blow up passenger planes so we should blow up passenger planes” or “Their soldiers rape our civilians so our soldiers should rape their civilians.” We draw a line that a certain behavior is wrong and we refuse to cross that line. Maybe doxxing should be on the other side of that line.
It might seem ironic in an article motivated by a neo-Nazi rally to quote Friedrich Nietzsche, who originated the idea of the übermensch, but he really did say it best. Nietzsche famously stated that when one fights against a monster, one must take care not to become a monster oneself, and that when one gazes into an abyss, the abyss gazes back.
I shouldn’t have to say it but, obviously, I don’t support the neo-Nazi or White Supremacist position. Like you, I derive satisfaction when I see racists get their comeuppance. I just wonder if perhaps we should be fighting the practice of doxxing as an unacceptable battle tactic altogether. It can be used both by us and against us, and the consequences can be horrific. At the very least, perhaps we should leave it to professional journalists and law enforcement rather than encouraging online vigilantism, which has a long history of unintended casualties.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.
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