Are Families of Those Guilty of Thought Crimes Fair Game?

 

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:

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.

Published in Journalism
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There are 12 comments.

  1. Member

    The first question that came to my mind was the nature of AmyMek’s “hateful, racist diatribes.” To be sure, they don’t excuse retaliation against others in any event, but I’m not sure that I trust the world of social justice warriors to make judgments about what’s worthy of “punishment.” Of course, I’m probably in trouble for even asking.

    • #1
    • June 1, 2018 at 4:17 pm
    • 15 likes
  2. Coolidge

    She is @AmyMek on twitter.

     

    Amy Mek is the author of this supposedly notoriously vile piece of hatred which read word for word like this: Nov 10th 2017
    Opposing Islam is no more RACIST than opposing German National Socialism
    or Soviet Communism. It has nothing to do with color or ethnicity and everything to do with a political -theocratic idealogy that demands submission or death of the infidel, elimination of gays and submission of women.

    So here is the thing that leaves my head spinning: here in Calif, should you so much as look at someone who is gay in a funny manner, or fail to observe any of a number of specific activities regarding someone who is a person of color, your life can be ruined. I had to branch out and create my own lil private home health aide company because when I followed state law and reported women from south of the border for the fact that they had abused a client, or stolen from myself or the client, I was told by nursing agencies that I was behaving in a racist manner and that my work record would be getting some demerits.

    But we have a religion whose participants engage in “submission or death of the infidel, elimination of gays and submission of women” yet we are not supposed to notice any of that about the participants in that religion. So is that a double standard or what?

    • #2
    • June 1, 2018 at 4:46 pm
    • 15 likes
  3. Member

    The internet isn’t private. Everything you do or say on it is as if you were shouting itmin the street. Does this excuse anyone either the offending Twitterers or the muckracking journalist? No. But if you made yourself obnoxious in a public park day in and day out, some jerk would come about that would try to get even with you. In the end your family and friends would have to bare the consequences of this rightly or wrongly. 

    I think ultimately getting people to realize the internet is not that anonymous will be a goodthing. It is just too bad we have had to stick our hand in this fire to learn how hot it is. But is this outing and shaming any different than how things happened before? This isn’t a new phenomenon this is how people have always worked. The internet just amplifies everything.

    Nice thing about Ricochet.

    • #3
    • June 1, 2018 at 4:56 pm
    • 2 likes
  4. Member

    Bethany Mandel: Are Families of Those Guilty of Thought Crimes [sic] Fair Game?

     

    Care to list or send Me a link containing all the “thought crimes[?]”

    We should lay off that phrase lest The People get comfortable with it, use it, and expect it.

    • #4
    • June 1, 2018 at 5:04 pm
    • 6 likes
  5. Member

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    But if you made yourself obnoxious in a public park day in and day out, some jerk would come about that would try to get even with you. In the end your family and friends would have to bare the consequences of this rightly or wrongly. 

    For me, the issue is that only certain opinions expressed in the public Park are subject to censure … obnoxious or not. We are abdicating our right to express any opinion in the public park that deviates from the SJW approved mantra.

    • #5
    • June 1, 2018 at 5:13 pm
    • 11 likes
  6. Member

    Valiuth (View Comment):

    The internet isn’t private. Everything you do or say on it is as if you were shouting itmin the street. Does this excuse anyone either the offending Twitterers or the muckracking journalist? No. But if you made yourself obnoxious in a public park day in and day out, some jerk would come about that would try to get even with you. In the end your family and friends would have to bare the consequences of this rightly or wrongly.

    I think ultimately getting people to realize the internet is not that anonymous will be a goodthing. It is just too bad we have had to stick our hand in this fire to learn how hot it is. But is this outing and shaming any different than how things happened before? This isn’t a new phenomenon this is how people have always worked. The internet just amplifies everything.

    Nice thing about Ricochet.

    The internet isn’t a public park either. Posting things on social media needn’t bother anyone given that you have to go to the site to see what people post, and you can prevent yourself from seeing material from specific users. It’s more like a library where people take issue with controversial books.

    There isn’t and shouldn’t be an expectation that when someone posts something anonymously it will become public knowledge who posted it. The ability to write anonymously, particularly about controversial matters, has played an important role in history.

    • #6
    • June 1, 2018 at 6:33 pm
    • 17 likes
  7. Member

    Thank you for writing about this. We are in dangerous territory.

    • #7
    • June 2, 2018 at 8:28 am
    • 3 likes
  8. Member

    How long will it be – even with our CoC – until posters on Ricochet are subjected to this terror?? This conceivably could be extended to people who ‘like’ a comment. Beyond scary.

    • #8
    • June 2, 2018 at 2:49 pm
    • 4 likes
  9. Member

    From the Huffpost Article linked in the OP:

    Mekelburg named her organization Resistance Against Islamic Radicals (RAIR). She created a website, set up a Facebook page and a Twitter handle, and recruited Cortez to design artwork from behind bars, according to Galasso. RAIR’s mission would be “to stop the Jihadi infiltration in our American communities.” Mekelburg didn’t mention herself anywhere on the organization’s website. Under an “accomplices” section, however, she posted the names, photos and contact information for people and groups she believed were collaborating with jihadi terrorists. That could mean anyone with a connection to Islam.

    “If the local garbage man was seen going into a mosque, you could submit that information to the site and she would post it,” said Galasso.

    Soliciting denunciations from members of the public had a Gestapo-Stasi stink to it, and RAIR’s roster of “accomplices” included city council members, rabbis, police chiefs, mosques, newspapers and other businesses. It looked like a target list. (During the reporting of this story, the contact information for the “accomplices” was removed from the RAIR website.)

    Janet Lyness, the county attorney in Johnson County, Iowa, made the list because she donated to the campaign of Mazahir Salih, a Muslim woman who became the first Sudanese-American elected to public office in the United States when she won a city council seat in Iowa City last year.

    If this is true (and I’m inclined to think that HuffPo wouldn’t have published this if they couldn’t prove it, for fear of being sued) I admit to feeling a lot less sympathy for Amy Mek. Whom I would otherwise tend to just dismiss as a complusive crank.

    (Here’s the link, I think: https://rairfoundation.com/ though it asked for identification before authorising [barn door, cow] which I declined to give so cannot confirm contents – though it is linked at Amy’s twitter page.)

    ??

    • #9
    • June 3, 2018 at 1:24 am
    • Like
  10. Coolidge

    Does anyone disagree that mentioning her in-law’s restaurant was spitefully unnecessary?

    I wouldn’t like to have to publicly denounce or defend family members, but maybe that’s just me.

    • #10
    • June 3, 2018 at 11:45 am
    • 3 likes
  11. Coolidge

    Zafar (View Comment):

    From the Huffpost Article linked in the OP:

    Mekelburg named her organization Resistance Against Islamic Radicals (RAIR). She created a website, set up a Facebook page and a Twitter handle, and recruited Cortez to design artwork from behind bars, according to Galasso. RAIR’s mission would be “to stop the Jihadi infiltration in our American communities.” Mekelburg didn’t mention herself anywhere on the organization’s website. Under an “accomplices” section, however, she posted the names, photos and contact information for people and groups she believed were collaborating with jihadi terrorists. That could mean anyone with a connection to Islam.

    “If the local garbage man was seen going into a mosque, you could submit that information to the site and she would post it,” said Galasso.

    Soliciting denunciations from members of the public had a Gestapo-Stasi stink to it, and RAIR’s roster of “accomplices” included city council members, rabbis, police chiefs, mosques, newspapers and other businesses. It looked like a target list. (During the reporting of this story, the contact information for the “accomplices” was removed from the RAIR website.)

    Janet Lyness, the county attorney in Johnson County, Iowa, made the list because she donated to the campaign of Mazahir Salih, a Muslim woman who became the first Sudanese-American elected to public office in the United States when she won a city council seat in Iowa City last year.

    If this is true (and I’m inclined to think that HuffPo wouldn’t have published this if they couldn’t prove it, for fear of being sued) I admit to feeling a lot less sympathy for Amy Mek. Whom I would otherwise tend to just dismiss as a complusive crank.

    (Here’s the link, I think: https://rairfoundation.com/ though it asked for identification before authorising [barn door, cow] which I declined to give so cannot confirm contents – though it is linked at Amy’s twitter page.)

    ??

    Whether or not AmyMek herself is deserving of sympathy isn’t the issue here. What was despicable of HuffPo was to specifically contact her husband’s employer and make it clear to them that unless they fired him they would be portrayed as endorsing her posts. I can see arguments both ways about revealing the real identity of anonymous online posters, but going after their family should be off-limits.

    • #11
    • June 4, 2018 at 7:04 am
    • 3 likes
  12. Member

    contrarian (View Comment):
    There isn’t and shouldn’t be an expectation that when someone posts something anonymously it will become public knowledge who posted it. The ability to write anonymously, particularly about controversial matters, has played an important role in history.

    Yah, but people aren’t taking proper steps to be annonymous. If you go to a park and stand on a soap box and call yourself lovesdogs86 and then go on a rant. Are you really being annonymous ig people can see your faces and then watch you get into a car with license plate number 234xtl6 ? To the average joe yes. But someone determined to figure out who you are could from that information do it. 

    I agree anonymity is can be a good thing for the sake of discussing ideas. But you have to put some effort into it, and too many people on the internet think they are annonymous when they really aren’t. People have to start realizing that the internet is far more public than they assume. 

    • #12
    • June 4, 2018 at 7:24 am
    • Like