There’s certainly no question that the “Unite the Right” rally that took place in Charlottesville, VA was abhorrent in its message and in the resulting violence that took place, leaving one protester dead at the hands of a Nazi sympathizer. While one can certainly argue that free speech is alive and well in the rhetoric of the alt-right, allowing them the ability to gather and speak their minds freely without government oppression, the interesting part about this particular rally is that it may have very well spawned the true end of anonymity in the age of social media with the rebirth of Racism 2.0.
As police and investigators were cleaning up from the mayhem, a lone Twitter account by the name of YesYoureRacist had already begun naming identifiable rally attendees from photographs posted by the media with the help of fellow Twitter users and other social media accounts. The account only had 63,000 users on Saturday but is on track to break 400,000 followers by the end of the week, according to ABCNews.
This type of practice has been commonly referred to as “doxxing”. Merriam-Webster defines doxxing as “to publicly identify or publish private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge.” That may no longer be the case as Dave Weigel from the Washington Post has noted “It’s not “doxxing” to identify people who appeared in public at a rally and have given media interviews about their beliefs.”
As seen in the photo above, there was a brutal assault that took place on an individual named Deandre Harris. New York Daily News reporter and activist Shaun King took to Twitter to crowdsource and unmask all 5 of the assailants and before the police could even file reports, 2 of the 5 were discovered, stating that with one, his “neck moles gave it away.”
With the turbulent political, social and economic times we are facing as a nation, we’re all united; not necessarily by the same beliefs, but by the ubiquitous technology that we carry with us every day. These phones, connected to social media, now hold immense power to show the world what is going on around us within a matter of seconds and for those at the forefront of conflict, that data. And that data which lives online has given anyone the ability to find out information about anyone. Especially those involved in something hateful, such as an openly racist rally.
The common social response to the photos and videos posted by the media and then re-posted by the YesYoureRacist account was “‘Oh! I went to high school with this person.’ ‘I had a class in college with that person.’ ‘I recognize this person as a prominent white supremacist in my area,” according to Logan Smith who has spearheaded the movement of identifying those involved in the white supremacist movement. When that crowd identifies someone such as Cole White or Peter Tefft the response can be instantaneous and swift social justice can occur. White was immediately let go from his job at a hot dog eatery, while Tefft’s father literally disowned him from his involvement in the rally. Some might say it’s mob mentality, but when those identified are in the wrong, is it really wrong to post their names?
The end result of all this mayhem, hate speech, and protesting is anyone involved can be discovered through a post, a Google search, and few clicks. As we navigate this wild time in our history, active participants in public events must remember that actions and words definitely influence how people and the world at large view you, especially if those actions and words are spreading a message of ignorance. With social media’s electric eye, we must do better. It’s not the 1950’s anymore.