On the surface, you can almost see how it sounds like a positive, pro-active way to take a stance against hate. Hundreds of self-proclaimed racists decide to march around in the streets? Why not post their photos online, “doxx” them, and let their friends, schools, and employers know who it is they are consorting with? What better way to make sure that fringe groups like the Ku Klux Klan remain extremist refuges for only the absolute losers of society – those with absolutely nothing better to do with their lives than hate on blacks, Jews, and everyone else who isn’t just like them?
And so it is that we have celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence posting on Twitter: “These are the faces of hate. Look closely and post anyone you find. You can’t hide with the internet you pathetic cowards!”
Lawrence may have a hell of a movie career, but we hope she’s set some of her millions aside for the lawsuit that’s bound to come her way.
See, whatever this kind of digital vigilantism may seem like on the surface, it’s a terrible idea in practice. And we’ve already seen why. Several people have already been misidentified by the internet mob, some of them forced to vacate their homes for fear of their lives. You don’t just bounce back from an accusation like this. You don’t just get called out as a neo-Nazi on Monday and then head back to work like nothing’s wrong on Tuesday. These people – the ones who have been mistakenly identified by the raging mob – could face serious, irrevocable consequences. And that’s not even getting into what could happen if someone decides to terrorize these people with violence.
Oh, sorry, only white supremacists are violent, we keep forgetting…
In tandem, Reddit, 4Chan, and the New York Post showed us only a few years ago why this kind of internet sleuthing is a bad idea. Thanks to the digital mob’s bungled investigation of the Boston bombing, several innocent bystanders found themselves in the crosshairs for a terrorist incident they had nothing to do with. If an angry Bostonian had decided to take justice into their own hands, someone could have easily been killed thanks to a case of mistaken identity. This is why we let law enforcement do the investigating.
The sentiment behind these movements is understandable, especially after someone gets killed as happened in Charlottesville. But this kind of practice never leads anywhere good, and the media should stop giving light to those who encourage it.