The internet is so full of mean people. You know what I bet would help fix that? A hot young company that exposes people’s real-life identities on demand. Here’s what definitely WON’T happen: Bob’s abusive ex photoshops a screenshot of Bob tweeting something racist, submits it with Bob’s employment info + Facebook link, then tells everyone on 4chan to search the victim’s name. That would only go down if the web were 80% occupied by jerks! Wait, what was our premise again?
Social Autopsy — a startup name that I could not make up — launched a Kickstarter (suspended five hours ago at the time of writing) to do exactly what I described above. According to the FAQ, this is their entire anti-abuse mechanism:
“How do you prevent people from using this information to harm others? We do not allow any commenting on our database, and we have disabled the ability to search our database by keywords […] you would have to know the individual by first and last name in order to discover them.”
Oh, chill, surely nothing like the scenario I described in the beginning will happen. Also, I know a lot of people who go by their real names online, myself included. It’s not like someone’s name is a particularly inaccessible bit of data. I am very unthrilled by the idea of a social-media Ripoff Report. This is the rare initiative opposed by both /r/KotakuInAction (a GamerGate haven) and anti-abuse activists like Zoe Quinn and Randi Lee Harper. It’s as bad as the “Yelp for people” app, and the founders seem equally clueless.
On the bright side, Social Autopsy has confirmed on Twitter that they won’t publish addresses and phone numbers, nor will they post any information that isn’t publicly available. I’m not super confident about their commitment, and I suspect that Social Autopsy is retconning their initial plans. (Disclaimer: I am purely speculating and I’m suspicious by nature.) But at least they’ve publicly claimed that they won’t be full-on doxxing people.
This venture is backed by Degree180, some kind of #content website along the lines of Bustle or any other generic women’s lifestyle blog. The founder of both projects is named Candice Owens. On Twitter, using Social Autopsy’s handle (@socialcoroner), she promised that a Vocativ article about Social Autopsy is imminent, and she’s going to publish her own blog post on Degree180. I’ll have my popcorn ready.
To be clear, Social Autopsy doesn’t enable anything that wasn’t possible before. Obviously online abuse is already a problem, which is paradoxically why this dumb Kickstarter exists in the first place. But Social Autopsy makes me especially angry because it enshrines doxxing in the language of feminist empowerment, which I find icky, and because the design doesn’t account for preventing the most basic types of adversarial use.
I heard secondhand that 4chan commenters were calling Social Autopsy “it’s okay when we do it dot com” — as much as I hate to agree with /b/ et al, that critique is on the money. Don’t stoop to using your enemy’s tactics and then pretend you’re not fighting dirty.