BuzzFeed doxxes the Hurricane Sandy twitter troll

This time, the critics are silent.

Yesterday, one twitterer with a relatively sizeable following was single-handedly responsible for a number of false – and some might say dangerous – rumours about Hurricane Sandy.

@ComfortablySmug has a little over 6,000 followers, enough to get a heavy head of steam behind the rumours he started. BuzzFeed's Andrew Buchanan collected them all together in a glorious montage of lies:

(Interestingly, at least one of his tweets – the claim that the MTA had announced that subways would be closed for the rest of the week – was false at the time but has since gained a kernel of truth. New York's Mayor Bloomberg told press that it could be four or five days before the subway system was back up-and-running.)

Just some random Twitter troll, right? Well, maybe not.

BuzzFeed's Jack Stuef did some detective work based on images that Smug had tweeted and found out his real identity:

@comfortablysmug is Shashank Tripathi, a hedge-fund analyst and the campaign manager of Christopher R. Wight, this year’s Republican candidate for the U.S. House from New York’s 12th congressional district.

FEC documents show Wight has paid Tripathi thousands of dollars this election cycle as a “consultant.” @comfortablysmug has been a vocal supporter of Mitt Romney and posted tweets suggesting he attended this year’s Republican convention. He’s listed here by a local Republican group coordinating volunteers for a Romney phone bank. He’s 29 years old.

What's interesting about the unmasking is that it hasn't drawn anywhere near the condemnation that other examples of "doxxing" have. When Adrian Chen revealed the real name of ViolentAcrez, the erstwhile moderator behind Reddit's jailbait and creepshots forums, it generated hundreds of column inches (well, mostly online – column pixels?) discussing the morality of his actions.

The debates are still going on weeks later; Danah Boyd wrote in *Wired* yesterday that:

More often than not, those who use these tools do so when they feel they’re on the right side of justice. They’re either shining a spotlight to make a point or to shame someone into what they perceive to be socially acceptable behavior. But each act of outing has consequences for the people being outed, even if we do not like them or what they’ve done.

This raises serious moral and ethical concerns: In a networked society, who among us gets to decide where the moral boundaries lie? This isn’t an easy question and it’s at the root of how we, as a society, conceptualize justice.

Similar debates surrounded Predditors, a tumblr dedicated to linking the pseudonymous accounts of people who posted creepshots to their real identities, and the inaccurate doxxing by Anonymous of a man they accused of harassing Amanda Todd to her death.

In each case, the reaction has been tempered by the extent to which the outing is seen as "journalistic". Predditors is run by an anonymous group, who publish doxxes which, while performed in an extremely similar manner to the detective work Stuef applied in unmasking ComfortablySmug, do not conform to "best practices". They offer no right of reply, do not check with the accused before publishing, and take aim for what many consider to be relatively minor infractions (many of those featured are not even prolific contributors to the subforums). As a result, it is this site's policy not to link to the blog.

But even Chen, who followed all the guidelines, faced criticism from Boyd and others. The general attitude was that this constitutes vigilante justice; that the unmasking can only be happening for punitive reasons.

But why no similar reaction for the outing of Tripathi? After all, in both cases what the trolls did was unbearably prickish, but limited largely to words. It's possible to argue that Tripathi's trolling was closer to the archetypal "shouting fire in a crowded theatre", and thus had physical consequences; but it's also possible to argue that ViolentAcrez, who was active for years more and far more prolific, contributed to a culture which nurtured attitudes certain to result in harm in "the real world".

The distinction lies in who Tripathi was revealed to be. Like it or not, anonymity in politics is truly dead. If you have any link to any political party, no-one is going to defend your right to be a pseudonymous dickhead on the internet.

At the end of the day, though, Tripathi is still being punished for his actions; and BuzzFeed is not, yet, a judge. Whether the same people who lined up to attack Chen will take potshots a Stuef, though, seems unlikely.

ComfortablySmug's twitter homepage.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Austria’s far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer concedes defeat

The vote was seen as a test of how other populist, anti-establishment candidates might perform in elections across Europe next year.

 

In an unexpected early result, Austria’s far-right party has conceded defeat in the country’s presidential election. The loss of the Freedom Party’s candidate Norbet Hofer to the liberal, Green Party-backed independent Alexander Van der Bellen, will be seen as a setback for the populist, Eurosceptic cause across Europe.

The official result of this bitterly fought election is unlikely to be confirmed before Monday, but the poll projections show a definitive victory for Van der Bellen. The projections had put Van der Bellen on 53.6% ahead of Hofer on 46.4%.

Hofer acknowledged his loss shortly after voting closed and congratulated his opponent. “I am infinitely sad that it didn't work out, I would have liked to watch over our Austria,” he wrote in a post on his Facebook page.

Hofer was aiming to become the first far-right leader in the European Union. Opinion polls in the run-up to today’s vote suggested the candidates were neck and neck.

His victory would have emboldened other far-right movements across Europe, such as Marine Le’s Pen’s Front National, further eroding the European liberal consensus. It would have been a shock of a similar scale to the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential race.

The election was originally won by Van der Bellen back in May, but Austria’s supreme court demanded a re-run after voting irregularities emerged during the count. Van der Bellen now looks set to increase his victory of 31,000 votes by a factor of ten.

Hofer, one of the deputy presidents in Austria’s parliament, campaigned for the presidency on an anti-immigration platform. He attacked the government over its decision to allow 90,000 refugees and migrants to enter the country last year.

He had also appeared to suggest Austria could become the next nation to follow Britain out of the EU, with a referendum on its membership of the bloc. He later ruled that out, but stated that he would oppose Turkey’s bid for membership and further centralisation.

While the post of president is largely ceremonial, the vote had heightened significance as an indication of how well other populist candidates might perform in the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections across France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Serena Kutchinsky is the digital editor of the New Statesman.