[content warning: quoted racist comments, brief mention of sexual harassment]
There was recently a kerfluffle about a member of the Internet right-wing named HanAssholeSolo, who made a gif that was retweeted by the president. CNN discovered his identity and did not out him, but made some statements that could be reasonably interpreted as threatening to out him if he didn’t stop being a horrible racist. I think The Intercept is probably correct that some executives decided to put in some lawyerese that happens to sound like CNN is threatening a critic with outing, and then didn’t explain themselves, because fucking executives. So I am going to blatantly ignore the kind of stupid and boring actual issue and instead discuss the much more interesting issue of whether CNN would be right to out horrible racists if this were actually a thing they were going to do.
–and let’s not mince our words here. I’ve seen a lot of people calling HanAssholeSolo a “CNN critic” or a “Trump supporter,” which seems unfairly insulting of both CNN critics and Trump supporters. To quote a Salon article on the subject:
At the same time he appears to have gone on a bit of an editing spree, knowing his posts would be under the microscope he started sanitizing some of his most offensive screeds, deleting the N-word and a comment about killing Muslims, for example. Quartz took screenshots of some of his posts before they were edited.
Despite the edits, there is still plenty of offensive material that HanAssholeSolo has posted that is still on the site (at least for now). The user, for example, posted a link to a meme that advocates running over Muslims with a tank. He or she also posted a meme that identified CNN contributors as Jews using a Star of David. The user also frequently posts racists comments that target African-Americans in particular, in one instance writing that Americans spend less on Father’s Day than Mother’s Day gifts because “most blacks don’t know who their fathers are.”
One might argue, as well, that eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth morality implies outing HanAssholeSolo is at least acceptable. After all, the r/The_Donald/Gamergate/alt-right cluster of the Internet shows no particular compunctions about sharing people’s private infomation, given that some of them are calling the journalist’s wife and parents at home with threatening messages. This is merely the latest in a long string of such incidents, which include getting a Nintendo employee fired for her history as a sex worker.
Nevertheless, I think it would be wrong to dox HanAssholeSolo, and this is why.
First, the eye-for-an-eye argument strikes me as pretty weak. When I have to give an account for my life, I hope I will have something better to say for myself than “I did not behave significantly worse than r/The_Donald.” Like, I am a better person than the average participant in r/The_Donald, that’s why I’m here defending their right not to be doxxed while they’re making unfunny memes about transgender people. (I’m too offended as a fan of comedy to be able to be offended as a trans person.) I promise there are plenty of ways we can punish the expression of horrible racism without using this particular one.
Second, when I think about doxxing, I always think about violentacrez.
Violentacrez was a vile person: among other sites, he moderated r/creepshots (which posted pictures of women’s breasts and asses taken in public without their consent) and r/jailbait (which posted sexualized pictures of women under the age of 18, many taken from their Facebook pages, again without their consent). But he also had a wife with fibromyalgia; when he was outed, he lost his job and his health insurance, putting her health in danger. While the Internet doesn’t seem to know what he’s up to now, Googling his legal name still brings up violentacrez; it seems quite likely that he has found it difficult or impossible to get a job since.
So that’s the question, isn’t it? Are you willing to sit down and endorse the statement “yes, I think a reasonable and appropriate punishment for this man’s actions is that his wife is deprived of the health care that helps keep her alive”?
And it’s not just people’s disabled partners (or, for that matter, disabled selves). It’s their elderly mother they’re taking care of and who has nowhere to go if they lose their home. Or their five-year-old who doesn’t understand anything about Reddit or CNN but does understand that Mommy and Daddy are fighting and there aren’t going to be any presents for Christmas this year. Or the better person they might be, someday, who will always be burdened by the corpse of the asshole they used to be.
It is much easier to judge people when the only thing you know about them is the worst thing they ever did.
In the case of violentacrez, yes, I am willing to bite that bullet. I am not sure that there was any other way to keep him from continuing to violate the privacy of literally thousands of girls, many of them underage. HanAssholeSolo, however, to his credit, has never been accused of harassing or threatening anyone. His comments about wanting to kill Muslims are obviously the same sort of thing as people saying “die cis scum” or “white genocide now” or “people who ship Reylo should be run over with a tank”: like, you obviously shouldn’t go around saying you want to kill people, but for every hundred thousand people who say that there’s maybe one person who actually, you know, means it. HanAssholeSolo’s racist comments were generally confined to r/The_Donald and other such places. It is not exactly a surprise to anyone that if you read r/The_Donald you will encounter racism there.
And– he would get fired. He would have a hard time finding another job. It would hurt anyone who depends on him financially. He would lose friendships and relationships. He would be harassed and sent death threats, because every time you unleash a mob on the Internet they’re going to harass you and send death threats. Maybe he would be a victim of swatting. Maybe he would be threatened or assaulted. And even if he changes, it won’t stop.
Even if you want to look at it from a practical standpoint, without any considerations of justice or mercy, presumably you (like me) want to reduce the number of horrible racists in the world. It seems to me that, to achieve this goal, it is very important that horrible racists continue to have connections with people who disapprove of horrible racism. If the people who aren’t horrible racists get you fired from your job and send you death threats, and the only place you find solace and comfort is with other horrible racists, and becoming less of a racist would not stop the non-horrible-racists from attacking you but would separate you from your source of support– would you stop being a horrible racist? Would anyone?
Those of us who have had the pleasure of having a small mob directed after them, as happens so often on the social justice Internet these days– did this get you to change your mind? Personally, I have sometimes experienced a mob where they were right and I was wrong and let me tell you at the time I would have sacrificed some of my less essential toes rather than admit that maybe the assholes had a point. I don’t know that making the mob be ten thousand people rather than a hundred would have any effect on increasing its persuasive power.
Mobbing doesn’t even consistently shut people up: I mean, sometimes it does, but there are plenty of people who get mobbed online and then respond by saying the same thing again but louder this time, and now they have sympathy including from people who weren’t on their side to start with. I mean, exactly how well has Gamergate done at shutting up Anita Sarkeesian?
Yes, yes, you should stop believing horrible things no matter how much it would personally harm you or how contrary to human nature it would be. I think it is a bit much to base your anti-racism plan on horrible racists universally being saints.
I’m not saying that anyone has a duty to spend time with horrible racists (although it’s a good thing to do if it’s something you’re personally capable of). But I am saying that at the very least one should not cause horrible racists harm in such a way that it increases their chance of continuing to be horrible racists. And that means no doxxing.