A few weeks ago, a Twitter user with the handle “Liz_Loveall28” uploaded an ostensibly insidious series of Snapchat screenshots – which have since been deleted. In them, a young man whose face remained obscured posted a series of Snaps – as they’re colloquially known – documenting his jejune trepidation with regard to a Sikh man on his flight. A photo with the man’s headwear inaugurates the series of Snaps, with the user writing, “Never mind I might not make it to Indy.” In light of Google’s egregious firing of an employee whom published a rational, well-reasoned manifesto on the imprudence of unfettered diversity, I thought it relevant to revisit the way we treat opposition and jokes online.
“Liz_ Loveall28” found the man’s posts, preserved them for posterity, and then galvanized over 30,000 Twitter users to identify the man. Within hours, his identity was revealed, and “Liz_ Loveall28” electrified her base to find the man’s school, place of employment, and home address. They found them. The user, whose name will not be revealed here, was inundated with threats, caustic criticism, profanity, and puerile jokes about his appearance – coupled with, of course, the creeping fear that the perennial nature of the internet means these Snaps will never go away.
This trend, inaugurated by the advent of social media but rendered veritably more troublesome in recent years, proceeds as follows: find someone whose joke you find distasteful and dox them (to find and publish private information about an individual online with malicious intent). In place of empathy is an allegedly progressive move toward justice (not procedural justice, but online justice) and the vindication for minority communities which left-leaning Twitter users have determined cannot stand up for themselves. You’ve seen it with school administrators, Harvard students, and other private citizens whose digital faux pas has the potentiality to cost them their jobs, livelihoods, or worse.
A few weeks after the tragic shooting of Majority Whip Steve Scalise by unhinged left-wing radical James Hodgkinson, there should be more restraint than ever when doxing political opponents, particularly young teenagers whose greatest crime is a distasteful joke; but unfortunately, that is not the case.
It is always difficult to ascribe motivation to someone, but I’m incredulous that wholehearted idealism motivates these posts. Maybe I’m a cynic, but I think it’s more likely an inchoate attempt to affect altruism and humanity. The notion that by posting it, with subtle hints of “I never have and never will,” they’re above the content in these posts – in shaming them, they look better. “I have an uncanny ability,” they say, “to police, recognize, and confront prejudice.”
Kathy Griffin made a tasteless joke about the President and everyone wants her forgiven. A young kid makes a racist joke online and the only vindication is to ensure that his life is ruined; to permanently mar his likelihood for success.
To be fair, a little media literacy could go a long way – be cognizant of what’s posted online – but expand that to not only an effort to keep your content private, but an effort by the aggrieved to not make someone else’s digital blunder public. If the person is as bad as you think they are, their immaturity will catch up to them, I promise. More often than not, though, these esteemed and virtuous warriors for equality abdicate all measures of decency and empathy.
This digital shaming is counterintuitive. It channels speech in such a way that every joke, every comment, is tremendously more partisan than ever before. Beyond the bounds of politics, the groundwork is being laid for more conflict, more violence, and more division. After Scalise, we should know better.
* Chad Collins is a graduate student on a Mass Media Track at the University of Central Florida. A burgeoning libertarian, he desires to expand his mind, better understand liberty, and identify and address contemporary threats to liberty online.