Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Commentariat Speaks (8)

TechCrunch editor John Biggs mourns the fact that social media is no longer a place where you can air an opinion without fear of adverse consequences:

“Our errant Twitter thoughts can make us targets and we often don’t know we’re being watched. A prominent writer and friend recently mused about what would happen if he posted some political rants. The first thing that leapt to his readers’ minds was the potential for SWATing and doxing and then a visit from the FBI. Then, as evidenced by the above CEO example, you get fired.

Social media has become a very real, very visceral, and very censorial force and it can now only worsen the human condition.”

Now, none of this is news. Ironically, it’s John Biggs’ fellow Democrat voters who fired the opening salvos in the online equivalent of the nuclear arms race.

Dox Me, SWAT Me, No-platform Me, Un-person Me

Biggs himself appears to be both moderate and pretty much apolitical, so we should forgive him if he’s a little behind the news curve. But until recently, it was almost exclusively those on the Right who had cause to worry about being censored, no-platformed, un-personed, having their Twitter or Facebook account suspended, or being fired outright for expressing a politically unacceptable opinion in a public forum.

All of the above, plus SWATing (placing a fraudulent 911 call to send a response team to a target’s home) and doxing (maliciously publishing private or identifying information about a target on the Internet, such as real name, home address, phone number, place of employment, etc.) were first used as tactical weapons by the Left against ideological opponents and those they deemed to be racist, sexist or something-phobic.

A Few of the More Famous Examples

Doxing seems to be the new go-to response of the terminally offended. For example:
  • Distraught by November’s election results, Buzzfeed published the contact information of Republican members of the Electoral College in the hope of pressuring them to vote for anyone other than Donald Trump. Not particularly effective, and definitely short-sighted.
  • Earlier last year, the parents of neo-masculinist Roosh V had their home address published by an online group associated with Anonymous, resulting in an impromptu media blitz on their front lawn. That’s just plain cruel.
  • Or how about Minneapolis city councilwoman Alondra Cano, who tweeted the cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses of constituents who objected to her support for a Black Lives Matter rally? There’s a few dozen votes Cano shouldn’t count on next time around.
Sure, doxing frequently backfires by generating sympathy for the dox-ee (not to mention that in some places it’s illegal), but that hasn’t always been a stopper.

That was Then, This is OW!

But that was then — “then” being, what, two months ago maybe? Oy.

In the wake of the presidential election the Left is scrambling, and social media has been even more broadly weaponized: Left against Right, sure; but even Left against Not-Quite-Sufficiently Left. Hewing to a 95%-correct set of social justice pieties in the public square is no guarantee that a single slip may not result in your excommunication from the hivemind, as journalist Glenn Greenwald discovered when he refused to buy into the media’s “Russians hacked the election” narrative. Further, tech-savvy Trump supporters have progressives worried about getting dosed with their own medicine: after all, Internet-based forms of public humiliation are available to anyone with the knowledge and the will to use them, without regard to ideology.

It ain’t safe out there folks. It never was.

The Least of Our Worries

Rabbi B, whose blog Ashrei is reliably worthwhile, can always be trusted to make a beeline for the spiritual application. In connection with Biggs’ comments, he replies:
“Yes, just imagine what a different world this might be if people were more acutely aware of the watching eye, the hearing ear, and the writing hand that is above, recording everything we say and do in a Book before whose Author we will all give an account some day. Social media is the least of our worries.

‘But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’ (Cf. Matthew 12)”
Or, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it:
“No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Yes, there are some things scarier than being publicly excoriated or losing one’s job.

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