In the hours and days following the security breach and subsequent doxing, the Internet was abuzz with tweets, Facebook posts and memes like “anyone who is a member of Ashley Madison DESERVES to have their security breached and information released. #karma”
Well, flash forward to today, only three years later and as predicted, political doxing is no longer on the rise but it has gone mainstream. It's no longer anonymous 4chan users or hackers from the dark web. This isn't gamergate or the alt-right. We are seeing mobs dox private citizens, often mistakenly, and journalists conflate journalism with doxing under the notion that, "it's for the greater good."
The most recent example is the HuffPo's investigative piece revealing the identity of controversial Twitter user @AmyMek, a high-profile anti-Muslim Trump supporter, revealed to be Amy Mekelburg. Now I know for a fact that many people will read that description and think, "Fuck that bigot. She had it coming." And to a certain extent, she did. Amy did very little to hide her identity and doxed herself on more than one occasion. One could make the argument that it's standard journalistic practice to try to determine the the identity of the person behind a huge account with over 200,000 followers.
What I do take issue with is getting her husband fired from his job and revealing the names and businesses of her father and brother. First of all, it's unethical journalistic practice to name names and not give the person or organization a chance to comment.
Secondly, should an entire family be held responsible for the sins of one of their own? The revelation had the desired outcome. As I write this, HuffPo users were posting addresses and numbers and urging people to call or show up at their place of business--to do what, I'm not exactly sure.
And I hate that I even have to explain myself, but I don't agree with Amy's takes. I think she's a shit person with shit opinions which is why I don't follow her or retweet her or pay any attention to her.
Her opinions may make the world worse, but, as one of my Twitter followers Kyle Beckley commented, "...which lives were injured? When was that danger made manifest? This is a convenient lie people tell themselves when they want to engage in mob tactics while giving themselves moral sanction to do so."
The road to hell is paved with good intentions and a lot of evil has been done under the notion that it's for "the greater good."
The world loves stories of betrayal and retribution. The libraries are filled with them. Songs of spite and revenge are as common as love ballads. When a bad guy gets outed or a scorned lover gets theirs we collectively rejoice. Hooray! There’s some justice in an unfair world, after all.
The problem with this logic is that our empathy only seems to extend to the times we’ve been victims of a broken heart or victims of bullying; when it comes to the times we’ve been the perpetrator, suddenly we have amnesia.
Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”
Yet in the modern era of social media, how quick we are to cast our virtual stones, cheering for the "bad guy" to get doxed, forgetting that each and every one of us lives in a glass house comprised of our secrets, our shame, our Google searches we would never want to be posted to our social media. Fetishes. Addictions. Indiscretions. Naked selfies. Disease. Debt. Moments of weakness. Skeletons in the closet.
The collateral damage from the Ashley Madison security breach was messy and far-reaching. There were suicides and lives ruined. People lost their jobs. Families were destroyed. Kids displaced. Identities stolen. Now you can wag your finger and say, “That’s what they get.”
But is it?
Is it “#karma” if your personal health records go public and the world learns of your STD? Is it cosmic justice if your financial records are released, alerting the world to the fact that you have a dollar in your bank account and $65,000 worth of gambling debt? Is it fair if you say something dumb online and have your entire family exposed to the world? Information without context is dangerous and once your reputation is in ruins, good luck ever getting it back.
Humans have always had a strong desire to impose our morality on others. In the Age of Information coupled with the Culture of Outrage, this is easier than ever before. I’m by no means trying to give a free pass to these men and women who have deceived the people who trust them the most. Or to Amy Mekelburg for being a bigot. But I’m also not going to stand here and bask in the glory of lives being destroyed, families in pain, public humiliation. Last time I checked this wasn’t the Coliseum or the Dark Ages. Or is that where we're headed? This kind of herd mentality has been dangerous throughout the ages, ushering us into Darkness after centuries of progress. It’s what got us into the Inquisition.
If we think justice is being served, is it suddenly okay to leak millions--or even one--private individual’s information online? And who is the “we” who gets to make the decision about when it’s okay to dox someone and when it’s not? History has proven the mass opinion to be a very bad judge of character and with more and more of our information available online we are sliding down a slippery slope of turning a blind eye to blatant identity theft, defamation, slander and other crimes out of some sense of moral righteousness. The irony (and danger) of the public judge and jury deriding liars and bigots while cheering for thieves and vigilante journos is not lost upon me. I hope it isn’t lost upon you.
Or we’re all lost.