Should we doxx anonymous Canadian political trolls?
Ottawa-based journalist collective Blacklock’s Reporter revealed the real name of Twitter troll Neil Before Zod, aka Neil Waytowich of Peterborough, Ontario this week. WHO CARES???? Some highly placed Canadian politicians and journalists, it would seem.
As a veteran of these low-level Canadian politics social media wars, I have noticed there are two things that surprise anyone who is just discovering that this sort of rudeness actually exists in Canada. The first is just how many powerful people are bothered by these mostly obsessed randos.
It’s always been hard for me to imagine a highly-placed American or British politician getting wound up about this sort of thing, but that’s Canada for you. As you can see, the rub this time is that Waytowich was (apparently) a public servant (though of course even that fact has been challenged), which supports the notion that the public service as a whole is BIASED!!! and that the Liberals are egging on these uncouth characters.
Um, yeah? Of course they are. Of course the pretense of civility in this country is a fraud. As is the feigned shock and horror at this violation of our norms of good behaviour and decorum, and the exposed troll’s tired I’m-the-real-victim-here act.
Which brings me to Surprise #2: The obvious nervousness of these trolls at being discovered, and their not-very-convincing attempts to cover up that nervousness.
You would assume that someone who is so moved to despair by the rising tide of US-style white supremacy in this country that they would- gasp- be rude online IN CANADA would be proud to do so under their own name. The excuse they usually give is that it would have adverse consequences for their job if they were ever discovered, and in Mr. Zod’s case, there does seem to be at least some obviously-rarely-observed statute at his former place of employment preventing him from doing what he did, which is why he prudently resigned before committing himself to trollery full-time. Suuuuuure.
The last fellow who made being rude online to Conservatives into a life mission was Robert PJ Day, aka Canadian Cynic. You can read more on Mr. Day’s exploits here and here, if you’ve got nothing better to do. The players change, but the game remains the same, other than the fact that Cynic wasn’t ever so much as rumoured to be a public servant.
Then, as now, all the respectable people on both sides turned their nose up at the dirty business of exposing Cynic’s real identity despite a lot of private backslapping and acclaim. Then, as now, nobody would actually stoop to defend either the doxxers or the doxxed, but were happy to attack the coverage, or burnish conspiracy theories about who knew what and why about the wretched troll in question.
Here’s the thing about these keyboard warriors and the tears being shed over their rights and safety today: They operate under the assumption that they have some right or duty to be vile online, and that any consequences they endure for being vile, be it people not wanting to associate with them or actual job loss (not that that’s ever definitively happened before) is proof of THE MAN holding them down. They’re speaking truth to power, dammit, and they shouldn’t need to be anonymous, except for that invisible group of powerful people with an agenda who want them silenced.
And we would be able to dismiss this conspirazoid nonsense as what it is except—to return to Issue #1—senators and journalists and MP’s actually DO spend time worrying about what these people write about them!!
So—and I say this as someone who thought, at one time, exposing these trolls would do something to reduce the problem—the answer is not doxxing them. It is, in fact, accepting that this sort of vitriol is an unpleasant part of the discourse—yes, even in Canada.