"Violentacrez" appears on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360.
Today most people would tell you that the stocks, pillory and other tools of public punishment are barbaric. We’ve moved passed them, having figured out more humane ways to deal with crime. Why, then, the resurgence of public shaming, namely the mainstream acceptance of the “dox,” which, in its purest form, is the digging up of a target’s personal information—name, phone number, address, Social Security number, familial relationships, financial history—and exposing it online to encourage harassment from others? This practice has gradually been popularized by Anonymous, the amorphous collective of trolls and “hacktivists” that alternately terrorize tween girls and disable government websites.
In 2012, this practice was broadly adopted by media outlets. In October, Gawker unmasked a creep, notorious for facilitating the sharing sexualized images of women (underage and otherwise) taken without their consent. Gawker declared him “the biggest troll on the web.” Its sister blog Jezebel called for the naming of names of such creeps, and later exposed a bunch of teenage Twitter users making racist remarks about Obama, going so far as to personally alert the administrators of their schools by phone.
This trend runs silly, as well—Buzzfeed ridiculed spoiled teens whining about their Christmas presents, while every media outlet covered Nice Guys of OK Cupid, a blog that ridicules clueless misogyny by sharing photos of hapless bros with regrettable stances on gender politics. Prepare to see a lot more of this sort of thing now that Facebook has released its Graph Search tool, which makes it possible to search for a controversial keyword or phrase (say, “I hate n—–ers”), find people who’ve used that phrase on their profiles and grab some screenshots—you’ve got a readymade outrage-baiting trend piece.
The dox phenomenon played out with unfortunate results last month, when on March 17, development evangelist Adria Richards tweeted a photo of two men who’d been making sophomoric jokes at a tech conference, leading to the removal of the offenders, and then the firing of one. A wave of backlash ensued against Richards; strangers sent her abusive, threatening messages, and Internet trolls conspired to get her fired, attacking her employer’s website with dummy traffic. Her employer eventually did terminate her contract, citing Richards’s divisive tactics.
The First Amendment protects a lot of abhorrent speech, but societies have always resorted to some form of vigilante justice to preserve widely known and observed rules of social conduct that don’t result in a crime when they’re broken. So we turn instead to public humiliation, an organic form of social control that never really went away completely, as evidenced by the occasional signboard-bearing ne’er-do-well on the nightly news. Publicity-seeking judges occasionally will expose deadbeat dads, public urinators, drunk drivers and repeat drug offenders. But these are outliers. We don’t prop people up in public, brand them with scarlet letters or hurl spoiled produce.