The Swedish ‘journalism group’ Researchgruppen, in collaboration with the newspaper Expressen, has discovered a security vulnerability in the Disqus commenting system, which allowed them to associate comments with the email addresses of the users who posted them. Being responsible, security-conscious citizens, they naturally did not exploit the vulnerability, but instead quietly reported it to Disqus so it could be closed—no, actually, they gathered the email addresses of commenters on sites that oppose their politics, and used them to identify and out them.
Researchgruppen, founded by Martin Fredriksson, a member of the militant leftist group Anti-Fascist Action who has been convicted of assault several times, is collaborating with the Swedish media to publish the names of many commenters on anti-mass immigration sites such as Avpixlat: not only politicians, but also private individuals, including a manager at an energy company, a contractor, and a chemistry professor. One such individual has been disciplined by his employer and may be fired; there may be other such cases that have not made it into the media.
It’s worth noting Expressen‘s own political history here. It is one of the two nationwide evening tabloid newspapers in all of Sweden, and it has the third-highest print circulation of any daily newspaper in Sweden: 303,000. (For comparison, Aftonbladet, with the highest circulation, has 337,000.) Expressen once had to discontinue work on a report on left-wing extremists, because, as Niklas Svensson, a political reporter there, put it:
Host: “Why were these articles stopped then?”
Niklas Svensson: “Yes, that’s the big question. I cannot say for sure what the reason was. But we have our suspicions, we are working on it. We just found, when we surveyed, unpleasant connections between the people we looked at and people who were employees in our own editorial staff.”
Host: “There were connections between Expressen employees and left-wing extremists?”
Niklas Svensson: “Yes, that’s what we mean.”
Host: “How was the clutches then?”
Niklas Svensson: “There were people who sympathized with e.g. AFA [Anti-Fascist Action] on our editorials. We discovered when we searched the article archive that some at different times had praised groups like AFA at Expressen. We also found other links. We saw freelance writers who worked for Expressen who had participated themselves in campaigns where people had been convicted.”
The story, of course, doesn’t stop there: TV3 recently announced a new TV show made by Robert Aschberg, who has worked with Fredriksson before, called “Trolljägarna”—”troll hunters”.
The Internet is full of trolls who spread hate and make life miserable for others on online forums. Robert Aschberg tracks them down in TV3’s new program “Troll Hunters”. He seeks out Internet trolls and confronts them in situations where they can’t hide behind the screen and keyboard, and sometimes helps victims recover damages.
It’s not hard to see the connection here. Aschberg’s group got access to a mass of data that can be used to track people down based on their online comments, and Aschberg announced a show about tracking people down based on their online comments—and the focus of Researchgruppen’s press releases is entirely on the ‘far right’. Yes, folks, it really is the 21st century: the witch hunt will be televised.
One of the outed commenters begins to see the point of all this:
What you are doing is totally abhorrent. You’re just trying to prevent people from voting for the Sweden Democrats.
But it’s not just about votes. The Red Scare wasn’t; why should the Brown Scare be? Voting is just the tip of the iceberg. If you only go after votes, there’s nothing to prevent the sentiment from spreading, or center-right parties from ceasing to ignore sensible concerns; but if you silence entire points of view, if you make opposition to your political agenda in any form socially unacceptable, no one will oppose your political agenda except the people who are willing to do things that are socially unacceptable, and they’re low-status by definition so there’s nothing to worry about from them. And if you turn people into witches, you can be a witch hunter.
That’s what it’s really about. That’s what the Brown Scare is about, and that’s what democracy is about. Democracy is like football—you cheer for your team, and you get to feel good when it wins—but it differs in one important respect: when your football team wins, you don’t get to take credit for the victory. In democracy, every voter is a nano-king, allotted a mathematically insignificant yet emotionally pleasing fraction of power, a tiny mace with which to whack the enemy, a toothpick sword with which to charge into war for the side of righteousness—a civil war where the sides only line up to be counted. It just feels good to have an enemy, a hated other, an elthede, to attack, and thus to bond the thede together against, to establish not only power, but also a sad simulacrum of community that can serve as a cheap replacement for the real thing to anyone who doesn’t have much of one.
But for some people, democracy isn’t enough. These people, potential witch-hunters to a man, won’t stop with microscopic maces and toothpick swords; no, they want the real thing, or as close to it as they can get. Witch hunts happen everywhere, and show no signs of going away. And why would they, in this enlightened day and age? Not only is it pleasing to the sorts of people who become witch-hunters, it’s a good political strategy. That’s what it’s about.
In Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, or a near-endless list of political systems that progressives and small-d democrats love to point to to justify their positions by Winston Churchill’s old adage, witch-hunters went to work for the state, striking down evils simultaneously inherently inferior and immensely threatening to all that the state deems good and righteous. In our enlightened age… well, sometimes they still do, as is aptly demonstrated by any of the latest headlines about the European Union. But the European Union is not Nazi Germany: not only can it not send people to camps, it can’t even send TV cameras into people’s houses to denounce them as heretics on the air. Considered in the context of all political systems of the modern age, it really is fairly toothless. Robert Aschberg wants a better strategy—and an even bigger sword. And he has found one.
Again, this is all perfectly sensible behavior on the part of a belief system, or those who want to advance it. The message is clear: If you disagree with us, we will track you down, publish your name, and send cameramen to your house to ‘confront’ you for a TV audience. So, you know, don’t. And it works. The beauty of it is that you don’t have to convince anyone. You don’t have to spend time arguing, and you don’t need the instruments of overt state repression that characterize less enlightened systems of government. Just make it clear what isn’t respectable, what you can’t get away with saying without risking your job and your reputation, and it all falls into place. With every successful witch hunt, the message becomes clearer. Pax Dickinson wasn’t immune; Jason Richwine wasn’t immune; Satoshi Kanazawa and Larry Summers and Lazar Greenfield and Helmuth Nyborg weren’t immune; James Watson wasn’t immune despite being a Nobel Prize-winning scientist. If a Nobel Prize-winning scientist can get fired for saying things that aren’t respectable, what makes you, a contractor or a chemistry professor or an energy manager, think you can get away with saying things that aren’t respectable?
And if they’re not respectable, you know, maybe it’s just better not to think them. Keep voting, and keep thinking, the ways the Cathedral tells you are respectable. Keep voting, and keep thinking, the ways Expressen tells you are respectable—Expressen, with its militant connections and its terrorist sympathizers on staff and its third-highest circulation in all of Sweden, not even counting its online readership! After all, the media is perfectly impartial, and perfectly qualified to tell you what’s respectable and what’s not, and you wouldn’t want to have a widely-read tabloid publish your name and tar you as a supporter of parties that aren’t respectable, or have cameramen track you down in your house and plaster your face all over TV, now would you?