A new story in the MIT Technology Review by Adrian Chen talks about the show and also journalistic efforts to expose racists in high places through their anonymous Internet comments. It talks about the tension this creates between free speech and privacy.
It is generally no longer acceptable in public life to hurl slurs at women or minorities, to rally around the idea that some humans are inherently worth less than others, or to terrorize vulnerable people. But old-school hate is having a sort of renaissance online, and in the countries thought to be furthest beyond it. The anonymity provided by the Internet fosters communities where people can feed on each other’s hate without consequence. They can easily form into mobs and terrify victims. Individual trolls can hide behind dozens of screen names to multiply their effect.
The story of how the Discus commenting system was reverse-engineered to disclose real email addresses was particularly interesting.1
I’m interested in what readers here think about the ethics of private citizens or journalists using legal technical means to determine the identities of anonymous posters on the Internet, and then publishing the results. What if we were talking about birthers at Birther Report, or commenters here?
I recommend the article.
1Disqus was including an MD5 hash of the real email address a part of the information provided by its public API (intended for use by Gravatar). All one had to do was to take a known email address (and lots of email addresses are known), and compare their MD5 hash to the one reported by Disqus. According to Disqus, the MD5 hash is no longer provided by the API.