There are people out there who want to ruin your life. They’re watching you. And if you’re not careful they will ruin your life. At best, you might find it hard to get a job. At worst, you might lose your job, your family, your friends – everything. You might even end up in jail.
I don’t mean to be melodramatic. I’m not trying to scaremonger. Such people do exist, and they’re paying close attention to what you’re saying online, anon. You may think nobody would be sad enough to do such a thing – “I have less than a thousand followers and just post Gigachad memes!” – and it’s only the “big” accounts like BAP or I that are in the sights of the internet police, but you’re wrong. There absolutely are people sad enough to be adding you to a Twitter list or an Excel spreadsheet, and trawling through your posts looking for information that could be used to identify you or someone close to you. Some of these people may even be journalists. Never make the mistake of believing there’s a depth to which a journalist wouldn’t sink. Look at Taylor Lorenz.
And even if you aren’t wrong in your specific instance, at this moment in time, you’d be better off behaving as if you are being watched. Primarily, that means tightening your opsec (more on that in a moment) and thinking carefully about what you post and whom you associate with. Down the line, you could be a much bigger account with lots of followers, and if you’re not careful now, you may already be sowing the seeds of your own very public demise. Take it from me: I never thought I would have 150 followers, let alone 150,000, but here I am. I’ll be honest, I probably made some mistakes back in the early days, including telling people my real name, which is JOHN WINTHROP, and that I live, for tax purposes, on THE ISLE OF MAN. (Thankfully nobody seems to have picked up on the fact that I am JOHN WINTHROP who lives on THE ISLE OF MAN.)
The perils of online anonymity have been thrown into the starkest of relief in recent months by the terrible saga of Ricky Vaughn, which I’m sure you’re already familiar with. But for those who aren’t, I’ll give a summary. Ricky Vaughn was a Twitter account with a huge reach during the 2016 presidential election cycle. His memes were regularly retweeted by the most influential figures on the right. The MIT Media Lab even ranked him ahead of NBC News, Stephen Colbert and the Drudge Report in its list of the top 150 influencers of the election. Because of a disagreement with Congressional candidate Paul Nehlen, the name behind the Vaughn account, Douglass Mackey, was revealed on Twitter and then confirmed in a detailed Huffington Post exposé. For the unforgivable crime of helping Trump win the election, the media continued to pursue Mackey, even after he retired the Ricky Vaughn account and moved to Florida. Then in January 2021, just a few days after Biden took office, Mackey was arrested on federal election interference charges, because of a fake “text your vote for Hillary” meme he made in 2016. He’s already been convicted in court, using legislation created over a century ago to fight the Klan’s violent attempts at voter suppression in the South, and now faces ten years in prison.
If you think that sounds stupid, you’re right: it does. It’s incredibly stupid. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is the world we live in today.
Just a couple of months ago, a much less prominent Twitter account than Ricky Vaughn – but a great poster nonetheless – was doxxed by a so-called journalist in a fourth-rate online magazine. I don’t want to draw more attention to the case, or provide any substantiation of the journalist’s claims, so I won’t say the name of the account, the man alleged to be behind it or the shitty little rag the piece was published by. What I’ll do instead is just give you an idea of how the poster’s supposed identity was established, according to the piece. Here goes:
- The account’s handle was originally the same as the name of the man alleged to be behind it, before changing to its based iteration.
- The account and the man alleged to be behind it shared the same email account.
- The man alleged to be behind the account posted about travelling to the same places as the account, including leaving a Google review for a hotel that matched a description of a hotel in one of the account’s Twitter posts.
- The man alleged to be behind the account posted about the same films as the account, including leaving IMDB reviews that matched some of the account’s posts.
- Both the account and the man alleged to be behind it posted extensively about a certain Far Eastern country. The man behind the account has a wife from that country.
- The account regularly posted about politics in the country where the man alleged to be behind the account is from (not the US), despite the account claiming to be based in the US.
This is an invaluable lesson in opsec: everything this poster did, you should avoid doing yourself. Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a very good start. Do not convert a personal account into a based anon account. Do not use a personal email address for your based anon account. Do not cross-post on social media and other publicly accessible sites. In fact, don’t cross-post, full stop. Do not post about interests or personal circumstances and attributes that might be uniquely identifying: if you are one of the five people in the world to have a cyclopean eye or goat’s horns, keep it to yourself, and likewise details about where you went to university, when, and other such information.
All of which is to say that, even now, despite Musk’s takeover of Twitter, you shouldn’t consider it to be a friendly platform. Information that is supposedly private is not necessarily so. You would be better off treating every kind of interaction as public, including conversations in group chats.
The situation is complicated by the fact that there are also people on our side, or at least ostensibly on our side, who are more than happy to play the doxxing game and collude with our enemies for momentary positional advantage. I’m sure you know who I’m talking about, and if you don’t, you will if you stick around long enough. Take note of who traffics in tittle tattle and personal information, who posts screenshots of group-chat and personal messages, and especially people who tweet and retweet doxxings: these are people to avoid if you can.
You should be extremely wary of people who suggest meeting up in real life, and that includes people who run websites and online magazines. I have never, and will never, ask you to meet me in public or private, for any reason. I’m not interested in who you actually are. You could be Emily Rajtakowski wrapped up in a big silk bow and I wouldn’t care. Really – and there are few presents I’d rather unwrap, any day of the year, than EmRa. The fact that someone is going to pay you $100 for an article on your latest big idea does not make them your friend. Write the article, by all means, but don’t take the money. Ask for it to be donated to an animal shelter instead. All I can say at this point is that there are going to be some extremely damaging revelations about certain people in this sphere, probably quite soon, and you’re going to feel mighty silly if you’ve given them your bank details or, worse yet, met up with them for a drink and told them your life story after one too many frothy IPAs.
I know this has been the essayistic equivalent of a cold shower. But cold showers have their benefits. Like I say in my judge’s commentary for the excellent second Passage Prize book, what the “dissident right” needs at this moment, more than anything else, is a significant dose of realism. That includes not only a frank reckoning, collectively, with what the movement is all about, but also a personal coming to terms for each and every one of you. What is it you want to do? How much risk are you willing to take? Do you really care enough to jeopardise your personal safety? Those questions are questions only you can answer. Good luck.