Blown To Bits

Political Warfare Via Public Exposure

Monday, January 19th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

How far is it fair to go to put the spotlight on those opposing you by making public information about them readily accessible? Supporters of gay marriange in California have taken public information — the addresses of those supporters of the gay marriage ban who gave more than $100 — and put it on an easy-to-access map. You can look at the map and see who in your neighborhood gave money to help get the ban passed. Or, who in my neighborhood.

The use of the Internet for public shaming — or is it intimidation? — is not new. The Nuremberg Files was the most troubling example of the genre — listing the addresses of doctors who performed abortions, and graying out their names if they were murdered. The site also listed where their children went to school.

The gay marriage advocates haven’t gone that far, but they have gone far enough to cause some real discomfort. The New York Times reports that to fight back, an attempt will be made to change the law so that the addresses of donors of as little as $100 are no longer public information.

Who has the better of the free speech argument here — those who feel intimidated, and hence feel their speech is being chilled; or those who just want to publish on the Web in a convenient form information that has long been considered public anyway?

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