There’s a disturbing new beat of journalism emerging: technology reporters using their time and resources to expose the identities of those who choose to use the Internet anonymously.
It started with CNN deciding to find the creator of a GIF the President tweeted out. While CNN decided against publishing the man’s real name, it did say it “reserves the right to publish his identity” if he makes offensive posts in future. That sounds an awful lot like blackmail, leading to the creation of a viral hashtag #CNNBlackmail.
“CNN is not publishing HanA**holeSolo’s name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again,” the article stated. “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
The goalposts have moved, and it’s no longer enough to prostrate yourself to the media for daring to say something they have deemed offensive in order to maintain your anonymity. Now, not only are the identities of the offending parties exposed, but their families are involved as well.
Huffington Post published an article yesterday naming a prolific Twitter user who goes by the handle @AmyMek. They couldn’t hide the glee they took in exposing her, which smells more like score-settling than journalism, with the subheadline reading: “@AmyMek anonymously spread hate online for years. She can’t hide anymore.”
One could argue that one is not guaranteed or promised anonymity if you engage on Twitter as if it’s your career like @AmyMek does. But the piece has a chilling effect for many who use the social network anonymously, lest they endanger their careers, reputations or relationships. There is any number of reasons why someone may choose to write anonymously, and while one could argue @AmyMek chose to turn herself into a public figure, it’s a frightening precedent.
Where Huffington Post absolutely crossed the line, however, was publishing the names of her family members who had no involvement in her online life or activism. This doxxing of her family led to their being forced to repudiate her or risk their businesses to the online mob:
— Mekelburg's (@Mekelburgs) June 1, 2018
It wasn’t just Mekelburg’s forced to face professional consequences for @AmyMek’s tweets, but her husband as well. The Huffington Post wrote,
Mekelburg appeared to operate without fear of fallout anywhere. As this story neared publication, she kept tweeting hate, even when her husband’s job was in jeopardy. Last Friday, after HuffPost asked the WWE a second time if anyone there had known about @AmyMek before hiring Siino, the company responded definitively.
“No,” said the WWE spokesperson. “Now that it has come to our attention, Sal Siino is no longer an employee.”
It’s hard to read those above paragraphs as anything but the Post using its power to punish @AmyMek and by extension, her family.
It’s not just Huffington Post doxxing the family members of those they don’t like. Before she failed up, er, moved on to The Atlantic, Taylor Lorenz decided to expose the identities of conservative Pamela Geller’s daughters, who had (past tense) a successful Instagram-based career. The daughters made a few online posts expressing beliefs similar to their mother, and that was enough of a thought crime to make them fair game. The girls were forced to make a choice similar to the Mekelburgs: repudiate their family or face ruin. Lorenz even went so far as to state “None of the girls have spoken out or denounced their mother’s extremist views.”
It seems this kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel journalism is Lorenz’s beat, with a recent piece at the Atlantic taking on one of YouTube’s biggest philanthropists, MrBeast. This is the next step: first, they take on those who obviously have offensive views to most Americans, like Geller or @AmyMek; but now any thought crime is punishable by hit piece. Despite MrBeast’s generosity, Lorenz felt the need to qualify it:
If you’re curious how such a young man obtained such a large amount of cash, Jimmy only occasionally donates his own money. For most of his videos he acts as a social-media Robin Hood, donating the money he receives from brand deals. While giving away such large amounts of cash is undoubtedly noble, he doesn’t give away all his profits. And monetizing his viral videos also allows him to grow his audience.
Lorenz went on to describe MrBeast’s “offenses” — he tweeted the word “fag” a few times over the course of several years and tweeted his frustration at Windows Operating System in 2015, calling it “gay.” For this, Lorenz labeled the young man homophobic, dragging his name through the mud.
At this rate, it appears MrBeast should count his blessings and be grateful his family wasn’t expected by the media and the social media mob to repudiate his supposed homophobia, all in the name of journalism.