The Twitter account @yesyoureracist has made it its mission to publicly “out” and name those who attended the rallies this past weekend. In doing so, they have misidentified several people to their 370,000 Twitter followers. The account’s response is to simply say sorry, ask for more patron donations and move on. The innocent people on the other end, however, have to deal with days of threats, harassing phone calls to their employers and the fear that their private information might become public.
Shortly after the high-profile shooting death of Travyon Martin, director Spike Lee took to Twitter to blast out the home address that he thought belonged to George Zimmerman, the man who was accused (and later acquitted) in Martin’s death. The address was not Zimmerman’s, however. It belonged to a couple who were forced to vacate their home due to death threats. Lee later apologized profusely and settled with the couple out of court. Too late. Damage done.
As with other high profile cases of mistaken identity (Newtown shooter Adam Lanza and the Boston Bombing suspects) the rush to identify and dish out digital justice first can have devastating effects and perhaps even fatal ones. The absolute last thing a group of online blood-thirsty amateurs need is to be empowered by those with the largest platforms among us.
Calling out hate is one thing. Digital vigilantism dished out by celebrities like Lawrence where innocent people are bound to be targeted over no fault of their own is something completely different, and will only lead nowhere good.
Earlier: Freddie deBoer on the “Planet of Cops.”