The Murky Ethics of Doxing: Anonymous VS the KKK
Various reports have circulated around the internet over the last 24 hours about the loosely affiliated hacker group Anonymous doxing members of the Ku Klux Klan. My immediate reaction was to cheer the hackers on, and I certainly wasn't the only one - but looking deeper into the story it's become a bit more complicated.
The conflict between Anonymous and the KKK started last year amidst the controversy in the wake of Michael Brown's killing in Ferguson, MO. In response to the KKK threatening to use "lethal force" against protestors in Ferguson, Anonymous took over the Klan's Twitter account and revealed personal details about some Missouri members, using the tag #OpKKK.
On October 22nd the hacker group indicated that they would be revealing a large number of Klan member identities, so when a list of political figures purportedly affiliated with the KKK appeared earlier this week, many news outlets ran with the story. However, it quickly became apparent that the list was not substantiated with any evidence, and some large Anonymous twitter accounts denied any connection to it. So now it's a situation where political figures are publicly accused of a potentially career destroying association with a racist group, without evidence or a credible source. The "official" Anonymous channel @Operation_KKK tweeted a response, indicating that they were not responsible for this dox... but the story had already circulated widely.
The idea of brave hackers fighting against racist groups like the KKK is appealing for so many reasons, but events like this lay bare the problems with unaccountable vigilante justice. I tend to think Anonymous has mostly been a force for good, but their foundational principle of anonymity makes it so anyone can leverage the credibility of the Anonymous label to spread unverified (or deliberately false) information. Personally I'd love to see some legit KKK members doxed, and I'm hoping Anonymous follow through on their promise to release a verified list on November 5th - but only if the list is truly verified, and doesn't accuse anyone who is innocent.