This is going to be a long one. Stick with me. I get to the point eventually.
A few years ago, while I was still living in London, I came downstairs in our building and found a sheet of paper left at the bottom of the stairs. It gave the name and address of a man who, the note said, was a convicted child abuser. The note was warning parents to beware this person.
As constant readers know, two members of my immediate family were sexually abused as children, and the death of one of those family members was almost certainly partly as a result of that abuse. So I am not, one can easily deduce, a big fan of child abusers. But I’m also someone who’s been the victim of false allegations and outing, the consequences of which I am still dealing with.
I confess I stood there holding the sheet of paper for some time. I detest vigilantism, and this note was a clear invitation to that. I detest child abusers, and believe parents have a right to protect their kids. I had no way of knowing if the note was about an innocent or a guilty man.
In the end, I left it where it was, but went to the police station to tell them about it. I figured the police could protect the man if he needed it.
In retrospect, I wish I’d removed the note. The man could have been innocent, but even if he wasn’t, he has a right to live in peace if he obeys the law, and people have died or been seriously injured when falsely accused of paedophilia. Others have had their houses vandalised and burnt down. We have a legal system and police force precisely to prevent the system of vendettas which ends up with blood feuds carrying on down generations.
Fast forward to the modern day. A admitted and unquestionable creep operating under an alias, ‘violentacres’ at Reddit, is outed by a Gawker journalist pretty much for no better reason than the journo worked out who he was. It’s not like the journo is on a mission to out all the misogynistic sexual predator rape apologist racist creeps on the planet. He was simply intrigued by this one guy, and decided since he had the guy’s personal information – including where he lived and worked, who his wife was, and what his home situation was – he could post it.
Cue half the internet applauding. Cue the other half arguing that since the guy had committed no crime [ETA: in the comments], outing him was unforgiveable.
This case puts me in the uncomfortable position of defending the right to priviacy of an absolutely disgusting human being. Yes, he violated the privacy of others – many many times, and egregiously. Yes, he’s everything a woman hates and fears.
But no, he does not deserve the actions of vigilantes. Nor does his wife or children. He should have been kicked off Reddit, which bears far more blame than he does, and shunned. He doesn’t deserve to lose his job, have his house attacked, or his family targetted. [ETA2: he has, in fact, now been fired. And he and his disabled wife are now left uninsured.]
Another case – “Sneaky Burrito” investigates Harriet Klausner, the world’s most famous non-reviewing reviewer, and decides she’s a fraudster for selling ARCs. Except under the US laws she’s not a fraudster and she’s not doing anything illegal.
Never mind the technicalities! Sneaky Burrito doesn’t like Klausner, so Klausner’s family and personal details are posted on line. Does he care if someone goes after her? Of course not.
And how about Jon Stock? He tracks down all his ‘hostile reviewers eventually’ and so he found the writer of three critical reviews. Not content with essentially browbeating her into taking down her reviews, he then boasts about it, posting the reviewer’s full name and work details in the Telegraph article (which has been syndicated elsewhere.) He doesn’t care that she fiercely objects to what he’s done (and Jeremy Duns thinks he’s brilliant). He doesn’t seem to understand what’s wrong with doing that because he thinks “The online world would be such a happier, more informed place if everyone was obliged to put their real name beside reviews or comments.”
Right. Of course. Because people never track down other people who’ve offended them and make their life a merry hell.
Jaq D. Hawkins also thinks outing reviewers is just fine and dandy.
And then of course, you have the whole STGRB mess, with Melissa Douthit deciding that she is the avenging angel of butthurt authors everywhere, posting personal information and real names of everyone who offends her, including me (and thus creating the Ouroboros whereby she outs me using the information provided by people who decided to act like avenging angels based on the false allegations of another butthurt/psycho author). (Also note that none of Douthit’s victims – including me – have repaid her in kind, though we have all the information we could possibly want to put her at the sharp end of harassment as her victims have been.)
Once you decide that it’s okay to dox someone because they have offended your personal moral code/hurt your feelings/crossed your path, then you essentially give them a licence to do that back to you. And then your friends will dox their friends, and it never ends. The very concept of privacy goes out the window, and we’re back in the land of vigilantism and vendettas. It’s not a nice place to live, I can assure you of that.
I don’t care how angry you are about something:
OUTING SOMEONE’S PLACE OF RESIDENCE, EMPLOYMENT, REAL NAME OR FAMILY DETAILS IS A DOUCHE MOVE. IT MAKES YOU THE ARSEHOLE.
If you think someone’s a paedophile, call the police.
If someone’s stalking you, call the police.
If you must criticise a reviewer, do it in a way that doesn’t out them.
If you hate someone so much you can’t bear to see what they say about you or anything they write – avoid their blogs, block their tweets, don’t friend them on Facebook. Trust me, not knowing what people are saying about you is a huge comfort – and it won’t give your harrasser any pleasure.
Don’t justify hateful, creepy, endangering actions on allegations of hateful, creepy, endangering actions.
Don’t become the thing you hate.
Just bloody don’t.