June 4, 2013

My Initial Reaction to the Latest Doxxing Allegations

English: A canoe in the BWCA
English: A canoe in the BWCA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a controversy raging in certain corners of the atheist community over if and under what circumstances it might be acceptable to publicly "out" an atheist who has been using the Internet under a pseudonym. This is not a new controversy; this sort of thing has happened before and will undoubtedly happen again. The most recent example involves allegations that a couple of bloggers who write for Freethought Blogs did this to a woman with whom they disagreed.

As far as I am concerned, the threshold at which one may reasonably conclude that it is acceptable to publicly "out" or doxx someone in such a manner that their identity will be revealed must be quite high - much higher than it is alleged to have been here. In fact, I'm having a difficult time thinking of a scenario where doxxing is justified that does not involve criminal behavior.

For now, I'll merely say that I believe the crux of the matter is twofold:
  1. There are many good reasons to use a pseudonym online, and we are rarely in a position to know the full circumstances behind why someone is doing so.
  2. Our actions often have unintended consequences.
I may come back and expand on the first point at some future time because I think it is important and often misunderstood. In addressing the second point, I'd like to ask you two brief questions:
Can you imagine a scenario where you publicly "out" someone as an atheist and they experience real harm as a result? 
I'm not talking about hurt feelings here. Instead, I am referring to situations in which the individual who has been outed loses a job, is kicked out of their home, or worse. I can imagine many such scenarios. I bet you can too.
Could you live with yourself if the person you doxxed was violently assaulted, maybe even raped, as a result of your outing them to the world? 
I could not. I could not live with that. Publicly outing someone as an atheist is an extreme response. I'm not saying it can never be justified, but I am suggesting that justifying it should require that a considerably burden be met. We better have something far more than a few critical comments online.

This post originally appeared on Atheist Revolution. If you are not reading this via email or RSS feed from Atheist Revolution, it may have been stolen.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution