Torch-wielding racists in Charlottesville marched as a largely anonymous group, but several of them are nameless no more.
Internet vigilantes on social media identified some of the white supremacists who descended upon Charlottesville this weekend, which is what happens when the modern version of the Ku Klux Klan doesn’t bother to wear hoods. As a result, some of those men have lost jobs and been disowned by their families.
Pictures from the rally to save the statue of racist icon Robert E. Lee — — went viral with the help of some prominent Twitter accounts. New York Daily News writer Shaun King rallied his Twitter base to call out the names of those pictured, as did the account @YesYoureRacist. They posted photos of those gathered at rallies on Friday and Saturday and asked for people to help track down those behind the at-times blurry photos and video clips. Even actress Jennifer Lawrence called for the racists . “You can’t hide with the internet you pathetic cowards!” she exclaimed on Facebook.
Several of them were named right off the bat. Read the stories behind just three of the most viral examples, below:
Lit by the flame from a tiki torch, Cole White’s smiling face was quickly recognized by people who remembered him as an employee of Top Dog in Berkeley, California.
The restaurant quickly confirmed as much by saying in a statement posted outside the restaurant that White is no longer an employee.
Fellow University of Nevada, Reno history students quickly recognized Cvjetanovic as a racist classmate of theirs.
In an interview after his photo went viral, Cvjetanovic said he understands the photo “has a very negative connotation,” but that he is “not the angry racist they see in that photo.” At the same time he describes himself as a white nationalist.
University President Marc Johnson said in a statement that “Racism and white supremacist movements have a corrosive effect on our society.”
Peter Tefft was caught on video in Charlottesville, and the attention that followed got his dad, Pearce, to publicly disavow his youngest son.
“We have been silent up until now, but now we see that this was a mistake,” Pearce wrote in an essay published on the news site Inforum. “It was the silence of good people that allowed the Nazis to flourish the first time around, and it is the silence of good people that is allowing them to flourish now. Peter Tefft, my son, is not welcome at our family gatherings any longer.”
Where this goes wrong
Those who want to use Twitter to identify racists in Charlottesville or elsewhere will have to be careful to stay within the social media site’s terms of service.
According to the Twitter rules, “You may not publish or post other people’s private and confidential information, such as credit card numbers, street address, or Social Security/National Identity numbers, without their express authorization and permission.”
Deleted a tweet with potential private info for @millennial_matt, aka Matthew Colligan of Boston — wouldn’t want to get banned!
— Yes, You’re Racist (@YesYoureRacist) August 12, 2017
That’s happened a lot following the Charlottesville protests, but there are other pitfalls, too.
As photos race around on social media, it’s easy to get lost in trying to identify someone before realizing that the photo you’re looking at isn’t quite what you think.
@YesYoureRacist initially identified pro-Trump comedian Joey Salads as having attended the Charlottesville gathering, but had to backtrack after Salads said a photo of him sporting a swastika armband was taken at a Trump rally a while back, and was only done to show that Trump supporters don’t like Nazi symbols.
It seems this pic was from a different event. Mr. Salads says he was wearing the armband for an “experiment.” Apologies for the confusion.
— Yes, You’re Racist (@YesYoureRacist) August 13, 2017
Wearing a swastika to show people don’t like swastikas is … one way of doing things … but the point, in this case, is that Salads wasn’t in Charlottesville.
In the midst of the naming and shaming, internet vigilantes have also misidentified protesters, so don’t believe all the finger-pointing you see out there.
The future of facial recognition
Critics pushed back against identifying the names of people who showed up to protest, though others have countered by saying these racists were in public, demonstrating for white nationalism in front of a smattering of media, and therefore can expect no privacy.
And in a future perhaps not so far removed from now, facial recognition software will be more widely used by law enforcement. It will potentially be able to quickly identify those in a crowd. Crowdsourcing identifying information won’t even be necessary.
Facial recognition technology has been criticized for its poor ability to identify black people. That can lead to false identification by law enforcement, a significant problem in general, but more significant for black communities already under greater surveillance than white ones.
Still, even in its infancy, the technology is currently being used at several law enforcement agencies across the country. The expectation of anonymity in a crowd is already an artifact of a time gone by.
Those willing to spew hatred in public are going to reckon with that sooner or later.