I haven’t written a polemic in a while. This truth has been sitting with me for a few weeks, waiting for the right time and event to socially deconstruct. I have wanted to comment on Adrien Chen’s use of d0xing to “save the internet” from the exploitation of underage girls, but I didn’t have the time between my myriad of jobs and grad school to do that topic justice.
However, a new event has provided me with an opportunity to comment on Chen, and link what I see as completely unethical behavior in the Internet.
Seems Gawker’s sister, Jezebel (Chen writes for Gawker, if you’re wondering about my connection here), has joined in their little “save the internet from the people” campaign by not just exposing underage tweeters vocalizing some completely racist tweets, but using the internet to interfere with these children’s lives.
Yes, I use the word “interfere” here, and with full awareness.
Before I go tirade on this, I am linking the article for your own use: http://jezebel.com/5958993/racist-teens-forced-to-answer-for-tweets-about-the-nigger-president?utm_campaign=socialflow_jezebel_twitter&utm_source=jezebel_twitter&utm_medium=socialflow
You may read this article, and wonder why I am so upset. Clearly these kids are publicly declaring the worst of racist hate speech. Oh, they are. And I am not rationalizing this. By no means. I will never endorse speech acts of this kind—of linguistic violence and oppression.
But I know something that Gawker/Jezebel obviously does not: that attacking those embodying speech acts does not stop the actual problem. That is, I will argue, just another form of the same violence and oppression.
You see, Chen thought he was some great internet vigilante on the side of Justice when he went after Violentacrez of Reddit (here’s the link for that: http://gawker.com/5950981/unmasking-reddits-violentacrez-the-biggest-troll-on-the-web ). Not many argued against Chen’s exposing of Michael Brutsch. Any who did were predominately of the same cut as Violentacrez. For those of us aware of the situation, we saw the dissolution of any ties between Reddit and Gawker. Blocking and deleting of any connection abound. Then discussions of what “free speech” means circulated among and within many of my technology-discourse circles. I paid close attention to all of these. In fact, Zeynep Tufekci, @techsoc, provided some really great conversation on what exactly free speech is, and what we do with it in the Internet.
But I have to move from agreement, even with her, at this moment, and say that something profoundly disturbing is happening when we challenge free speech in this way.
I would now like to turn my analysis to what both Chen’s article, and Tracie Egan Morrisey’s for Jezebel, are actually saying. Yep, it is time for some good ol contemporary-fashioned rhetorical, critical discourse analysis.
The first paragraph of Egan Morrisey’s article is where the trouble begins. She utilizes a clever form of rhetorical masking right away: “Calls were placed to the principals and superintendents of those schools to find out how calling the president (ahem, should be capitalized)—or any person of color, for that matter—a ‘nigger’ and a ‘monkey’ jibes with their student conduct code of ethics”. Great job, we do see how offensive this language is. Egan Morrisey has captured our attention immediately. Yet, I want to point out how. The language these students used, being displayed here, does that. But so does the lacking of any pronominal authority. Who placed those calls? And why did they do that?
Oh, this is where words get tricky…
Jezebel placed those calls. Egan Morrissey tells us so when she uses the all-inclusive “We” there in the first sentence of the next paragraph. Too bad we already have the subconscious intimation that no ownership of this act is made from the first paragraph. This is an act of burying Jezebel’s responsibility for their interference in this matter. The “We” is a denotative marker that includes us readers. Egan Morrissey uses this pronoun in an engagement of audience-assimilation.
And it feels natural that she does so. Right? I mean, it is terrible what these children have said. And, ohmygosh!, these kids have to account for their schools’ code of ethics.
This is where I remind everyone of Foucault. In his Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Foucault exposes the dominant mode of our entire society—surveillance and judgment. “The judges of normality are present everywhere,” he says. Jezebel and Gawker’s Chen designatingly feel that they are agents of Internet safety and “ethics” when they are actually mere pushers of a cultural norm very much aligned with the type of oppression they are regulating.
Foucault tells us that norms uphold standards, and that anyone who strays from the standards are deviants. In this case of social Internet infrastructure, racists, bigots, pedophiles, and horny sexists are constitutively deviants. This is nothing substantially different than in real life, mind you. Naturally, then, those standards need people to uphold them. This is where Jezebel and Chen step in—to “save” us from those deviants.
Foucault: The carceral texture of society assures both the real capture of the body and its perpetual observation; it is, by its very nature, the apparatus of punishment that conforms most completely to the new economy of power and the instrument for the formation of knowledge that this very economy needs. Its panoptic functioning enables it to play this double role. By virtue of its methods of fixing, dividing, recording, it has been one of the simplest, crudest, also most concrete, but perhaps most indispensable conditions for the development of this immense activity of examination that has objectified human behavior.
What I am trying to point out relies upon seeing beneath Chen’s and Jezebel’s own behaviors. No, they are not doing us or these children any good either for exposing a troll or by connecting teens’ public personas to their schools’ code of ethics (where is the society where we are not whittled into body representations of an institution? umm…hmm…). Jezebel and Chen are just reiterating the status quo of policing indoctrination; their act of collecting information is also unethical.
D0xing is harmful and a violation of human rights, no matter the purpose. I say this with such bold affirmation because I see the inherent structure of the carceral society at work in it. D0xing fits into Foucault’s definition of capture; it seizes the people exposed regardless of whether their information is easily accessible or not.
I continue to be bold in my affirmations because I can further elaborate on what it does to the people involved, and why it doesn’t actually fix anything. Sure, we can d0x social deviants whether they are of age and exposing the underage, or are underage humans participating in a cultural phenomenon of racism. *slyly smiles*
Sigh. So, Jezebel, it is legitimately okay to expose underage individuals participating in a behavior you think is justifiably wrong in our culture? They are underage, you know this, yes? I would like to point out that when Violentacrez and others took and posted pictures of young girls wearing revealing clothing, he/they were exposing underage individuals participating in a behavior not many feel is justifiably wrong in our culture. “We” (at Chen’s bidding) decided the adults involved were the ones wrong. Odd, isn’t it?
To continue, I have some non-rhetorical questions for Jezebel: who put you in charge of policing? Do you have a license? Is someone paying you? For whom are you sanctioned, and why?
These teens decried speech acts morally wrong in the culture of the Internet, yes. We may all acknowledge that; racism is not acceptable. Alas, in other cultures, theirs included, racism is a dominant discourse. And in Violentacrez’s case, his dominant discourse is pedophilia endorsement and misogyny. We think this not okay. We are not the only source of judgment, though. To assume that we are is unethical and continues the very systems of oppression that make these discourses of racism, misogyny, and child pornography exist.
Foucault: That in the central position that it occupies, it is not alone, but linked to a whole series of ‘carceral’ mechanisms which seem distinct enough—since they are intended to alleviate pain, to cure, to comfort—but which all tend, like the prison, to exercise a power of normalization… That,, consequently, the notions of institutions of repression, rejection, exclusion, marginalization, are not adequate to describe, at the very centre of the carceral city, the formation of the insidious leniencies, unavowable petty cruelties, small acts of cunning, calculated methods, techniques, ‘sciences’ that permit the fabrication of the disciplinary individual.
Gawker and Jezebel can use and endorse their “journalists” to combat these violations of the social norm in the name of curing the Internet of its social ills. But, they’ll be at it forever, just like the police and governments have failed to eradicate us from the social ills that plague humanity in the “real world”.
Because we have all failed in participating in what really eradicates these violations of human rights—we have not figured out how to attack the discursive formations of infrastructure that perpetuate these behaviors. We can call out individuals for embodying the speech acts that expose and espouse identities we culturally feel are unethical, but this will not stop the behavior. The behavior is cultural too. And to destroy that part of our culture, we have to take a good look at ourselves, our language use, and the roles we play in making them stronger.
To do that, we could try keeping one another safe while teaching each other safer ways to correspond with one another. That, my friends, is another blog post forthcoming. Until then, remember who you write for before putting a “We” in my name. I do not work for the carceral network.