Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Is It Impossible To Go On Offense?

     There are certain modern innovations of which your Curmudgeon is, to put it gently, not a fan. However, fair consideration has caused him to conclude that it’s not the innovations themselves but the ways in which they’re exploited that leave him cold.

     The one your Curmudgeon’s longtime Gentle Readers surely expect to hear about first – and with excellent reason – is the smartphone. Yes, this seemingly miraculous device, which packs the power of a mainframe of old into a package that fits a human hand, is near the top of your Curmudgeon’s Hate Parade. As he’s raved against the pernicious phenomenon of “absent presence,” in which whatever the afflicted one is doing with his smartphone takes priority over the reality around him then and there, on at least two previous occasions, he’ll forbear to assault your eyes with it this morning. Still, the smartphone deserves at least this brief mention.

     Another, which your Curmudgeon’s Gentle Readers probably do not expect to see mentioned, is the Internet itself. No, not the way it’s put all of human knowledge at one’s fingertips. Not the way it makes possible the dissemination of news and opinion near to instantaneously to the entire globe. And not the way it facilitates these periodic dissipations of bile lest the accumulation perturb your Curmudgeon’s cherished serenity. Rather, the way it’s used by vicious, small-minded persons to harass those with whom they differ from behind an anonymizing moniker.

     This article is the morning’s stimulus. The first sentence should suffice to tell you the essentials:

     Four prominent conservative women who support gun rights have been targeted with death threats, rape threats and threats to their children simply because they have championed the right to own a gun for self-defense.

     Please read the entire article. If you reach the conclusion without doubling your blood pressure, check your pulse: you may have died and not noticed.

     Because the Internet makes the concealment of one’s real name and locale so easy, barrages of vilifications and threats such as the ones Corban, Loesch, Jacques, and Washington have endured are effectively impossible to counter. While it might be possible, given a lot of time and effort and the cooperation of generally indifferent law enforcement authorities, to ferret out the identities of a few of the attackers, the price of the effort plus the number of assailants make it unlikely that anything of the sort will be done. Thus, the one effective response to such a hateful phenomenon – going on offense to hunt down the miscreants, bring them to book, and punish them severely – is denied to these women.

     And the Internet is what makes it possible.

     When person-to-person communication was limited to letters and landline telephones, a campaign such as the one the women above have suffered could be redressed by law enforcement. Letters could be traced back to their senders. Phone lines could be monitored. Law enforcement’s ability to sniff out the offenders made it next to impossible to get away with sustained harassment. The Internet has eliminated that course of action in the name of a specious “right to privacy” whose dark side is dark indeed.

     The funny thing about that “right to privacy” is how easily it’s used to destroy the lives of completely innocent persons. You’d think a “right,” which should be something all persons can enjoy simultaneously without engendering conflicts that can only be resolved by the use of force, would present a more innocent aspect. However, the conundrum can be answered simply: There is no right to privacy divorced from the rights of property.

     What “right to privacy” inheres in an individual outside his own home? Passers-by can see him, note his appearance, and watch where he goes. Those with whom he speaks can remember and record his words. Cameras that monitor the street can retain his image indefinitely. Merchants who interact with him can make records of the transactions. If he makes a purchase with a credit card, his identity is stamped onto that transaction and its details forevermore.

     Any privacy an individual can sensibly enjoy begins and ends at his threshold. When he emits a signal intended to reach the world at large, he loses any imagined “right to privacy” over the information carried by that signal. Why, then, have we fetishized the “privacy” – really, the anonymity – of the Internet attack squadrons that have made the lives of Corban, Loesch, et alii a season in hell?

     One of your Curmudgeon’s most valued colleagues has chosen to conceal his identity behind a moniker. He has good reasons: he and his family have been scurrilously attacked by persons who disagree with his views, which are conservative and patriotic. His wife is of a delicate disposition and cannot endure the stress from such things. He also fears for the safety of his children. Yet he would not have had to resort to a pseudonym were it impossible for his attackers to do so.

     Your Curmudgeon is on record as saying that he respects those who choose to stand behind their words far more than those who don’t. Plainly, attaching one’s right name to one’s emissions is integral to that choice. Yet the Internet’s privilege of anonymity in expression has made it effectively impossible for many persons to express themselves under their right names. They cannot expose their attackers and haul them up for public shame and disgrace.

     Perhaps there is no legal or technological solution, though your Curmudgeon, who was a communications specialist before he retired, finds that proposition dubious. But the cancer that has made it risky to express an opinion for public consumption has already had a poisonous effect on our public discourse. Present conditions continuing, it will only get worse.


Linda Fox said...

There is, in fact, a good solution to this. It should be relatively easy for someone to set up a service that tracks these cowardly fools, and delivers the information to their victims. For an extra fee, that persecutor could be sent a "Last Warning to Cease and Desist" before unleashing the Hounds of Hell - aka, their information to any worldwide troll that wants to exact vengeance on the victimizers.

You have to commit to making those threatening the safety or lives of your family VERY uncomfortable.

Hallofo said...

This problem lays bare both razor-sharp edges of the Internet. Instant communication and the sum of all human knowledge at your fingertips is a powerful tool! But that tool is indeed just a tool, dependent upon the wielder for good or ill. As we live in a lost and fallen world, there are of course those among us who would use ANY tool for ill, no less one as powerful as the Internet.

I don't see an acceptable solution to the problem that does not infringe upon some other fundamental right. Mrs. Fox's suggestion of a "counter-troll" service does seem appealing, but is easily thwarted with commonly available tools that prevent any sort of reliable tracking. You would (at this time) need the resources available only to major governments in order to reliably trace someone using a TOR equipped web browser and a trivial amount of "hacker hygiene".

For the Ladies in your article, I'd give them the same advice I give my own wife: Carry a firearm (or other defensive tool), know how to use it and maintain situational awareness. It does not matter if a criminal miscreant is motivated by the contents of your wallet or the contents of your opinion; being prepared to effectively defend oneself from aggression is a fundamental part of life.

Dystopic said...

It's a thorny problem, but you've introduced me to a new perspective on the matter. Must I be anonymous only because my enemies are likewise?

I don't know. But I admit I hadn't really thought of it that way up until now. It's food for thought, and I'll have to chew on it.

This has been a consistent problem I've wrestled with. I agree with you that the impact of one's words is greater, and more honest, if one uses his own name. At the same time, an environment where my enemies are permitted to use stealth, and I am not, would put me at a tactical disadvantage. Especially when they control media, much of the gov't bureaucracy, etc...

For myself, I'd still take the risk. The increased impact of my words would be worth the cost. But, as you mentioned, there are others who would be impacted by my decision.

In any event, the decision may be made for me sooner or later. I doubt I will be permitted to stay anon much longer.

Unknown said...

Both Facebook and Twitter have banned people for much less, but only when the victim is of the proper approved variety. Pro 2nd Amendment Conservative women are not of the approved variety.

No one catches flack on social media like conservative women, and both services do absolutely nothing about it, even when the offending stuff is reported.