A Twitter account dedicated to calling out racism identified people who attended the rally — including the head of the WSU College Republicans, who quit the organization — using photos culled from the news and social media.
One of the social-media posts resembled a wanted poster or a missing-persons flier: Photographs of men were arranged in rows, seeking their names and employers.
But the Facebook post wasn’t circulated by law enforcement in the search for a suspect or by relatives looking for a missing loved one. It was the work of ordinary people trying to harness the power of social media to identify and shame the white nationalists who attended last weekend’s violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A Twitter account dedicated to calling out racism, YesYoureRacist, identified people who attended the rally, using photos culled from the news and social media, and listed their places of employment and other information.
The account published a tweet on Aug. 12 that read: “If you recognize any of the Nazis marching in #Charlottesville, send me their names/profiles and I’ll make them famous #GoodNightAltRight.”
Coverage of the Charlottesville attack:
At least one person has lost his job as a result, showing that angry online groups can be used to renounce racism as well as promote it.
“The goal with online shaming is very short-term and driven by people’s desire to feel as if they are fighting back and having an impact,” said Brian Reich, who’s written several books on digital communications, behavior and political influence.
There is considerable controversy around the practice of “doxxing,” a term for publicly identifying, often with sensitive personal details like addresses, phone numbers and employer information, people who were otherwise anonymous or semianonymous.
Nicholas Brody, professor of communications at the University of Puget Sound, said the events show that in the age of social media, “nothing is really anonymous anymore.”
These days, not only can information be quickly and widely shared, but a lot of data is available about people on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Image searches and facial-recognition technology, meanwhile, can make it relatively easy to identify people online.
But the method isn’t foolproof. In 2013, users of Twitter and the website Reddit wrongly accused a man of being a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing. Reddit later apologized.
College students identified
James Allsup, 21, a Washington State University student and graduate of Bothell High School, was also identified by the YesYoureRacist Twitter feed. He told KREM 2 in Spokane that he considers himself a “paleoconservative” or “right-wing libertarian.”
Allsup, president of the Washington State College Republicans, has 14,600 followers on Twitter, and his videos on YouTube — which total more than 100 and include titles like “Feminist ‘Mansplaining’ Video Goes Wrong” and “Students TRIGGERED by Trump’s victory” — have been viewed more than 20 million times.
The national committee of the College Republicans on Monday called for the resignation of leaders who support white nationalism.
Allsup announced on Twitter that he was stepping down from the organization, which “had no involvement in (the rally) and they as a group should not be held accountable for any individual’s alleged actions.”
Peter Cvjetanovic, a 20-year-old college student, was photographed shouting with a group of torch-wielding protesters Friday during a march through the University of Virginia campus.
Thousands of people signed an online petition to have him kicked out of school. Cvjetanovic told a local TV station that he is “not the angry racist they see in that photo,” but a white nationalist who cares for all people.
The University of Nevada in Reno confirmed Monday that Cvjetanovic is a student there. Spokeswoman Kerri Garcia said the university is “still monitoring the situation and reviewing information.”
Out of a job
The internet vigilantes also identified rally participant Cole White, who was fired from his job at a hot-dog restaurant in Berkeley, California.
“The actions of those in Charlottesville are not supported by Top Dog,” the restaurant said in a sign that was posted Sunday.
One of those identified, Peter Tefft, was repudiated by his entire family in a letter to The Forum, a North Dakota newspaper. Signed by the man’s father, the letter said he would no longer be welcome at family gatherings.
The effort also had some unintended results. The YesYoureRacist account apologized for using an old photo of Joey Salads, a YouTube star, from a different event in which Salads said he was wearing an armband with a swastika as an “experiment.” He was not at the rally.
A protester was misidentified as Kyle Quinn, a professor at the University of Arkansas. Quinn tweeted that he wasn’t the person pictured in the photo and the university confirmed that Quinn didn’t attend the rally.
And the Raleigh, North Carolina, man behind YesYoureRacist was the target of an apparent doxxing by another Twitter user, who posted what appeared to be phone numbers and other personal information.
Logan Smith, who is communications director for Progress NC Action, says the account had about 65,000 followers Saturday morning. On Monday afternoon, it had topped 307,000 and was climbing.
“I’m not trying to get anybody fired,” Smith said. “I’m not contacting anybody’s employers. But you know, if someone goes to a white supremacists’ rally and their employer sees them, then that’s their prerogative, and that’s something they probably should have thought about.”
Exposed by hackers
In the 1990s, anti-abortion hackers infamously exposed abortion providers’ home addresses, photos and other information on a now-defunct website called the “Nuremberg Files.” Names that were grayed out indicated people who had been “wounded.” A strikethrough meant they had been killed.
Collecting and posting publicly available information, such as a photo of a person attending a public protest, is not the same thing, even if that can still hurt or shame people.
Paul Levinson, a communications professor and social-media expert, called it a “moral obligation” to expose white supremacists for who they are, something for which social media provides a good opportunity.
Of course, mere presence at a rally does not imply willing participation. Tiki Brand Products, whose torches were used and widely photographed during the rally, took to Facebook to distance itself from the march.
“We do not support their message or the use of our products in this way,” the company wrote on its Facebook page. “Our products are designed to enhance backyard gatherings and to help family and friends connect with each other at home in their yard.”
Meanwhile, GoDaddy, the web-hosting company, severed ties with The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi and white-supremacy website, after the site posted an article mocking Heather D. Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed when a man drove into a crowd during the rally Saturday.
The Daily Stormer later transferred its domain name to Google, according to reports and a screenshot of the registration posted on Twitter. Shortly after, Google announced that it, too, would distance itself from The Daily Stormer.
Other companies have also distanced themselves from the organizers of the rally in Charlottesville. Airbnb last week canceled a number of accounts and bookings associated with the Unite the Right Free Speech Rally, which had been described as an event that “seeks to affirm the right of Southerners and white people to organize for their interests,” according to a description on Facebook.