Coleman says that Anonymous’s efforts were once considered extreme, but with each passing protest, doxxing has become more mainstream. “Of course, you’ve also got groups like Bellingcat who are like amateur professionals when it comes to open-source intelligence formalized into an organization,” Coleman says. “But you’re continuing to see masses of people come together online [and doxx].”
That creates ethical quandaries. The data now being archived could haunt people in the photos for years to come, even if they later renounce or pay criminal penalties for their actions. On r/DataHoarder, for instance, someone asked, “Do you think it’s ethical to preserve content that features someone who now wants the content to no longer be public?”
I asked Lynch whether it was hypocritical for someone working to expose members of the mob to ask a reporter for anonymity.
“I believe people have the right to protest and share their voice,” was the response. “If they [mob members] wanted to protect their identity, they could have easily worn a mask or not livestreamed. But they didn’t wear a ski mask—not even a covid mask.”
“I think certainly a lot of this is context dependent,” Coleman says. “If you are engaging in an activity that is meant to call attention to the activity itself and don’t take precautions to hide your identity, it’s understandable how there will be people who will take that information and make it public.”
Lynch, who plans to ultimately submit the data to the Library of Congress, believes this activity is preserving history, saying: “We can only hoard what the world gives us. We’re just librarians.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Reddit moderators had shut down the thread on r/DataHoarder, rather than Mega shutting down the upload link.