[Meredith Haggerty is a writer and editor from Brooklyn who will be guest blogging for TLDR. Her work has appeared on The Daily Dot, Matter, The Hairpin and Fast Company. She wants you to hang out, say hi! Also, a brief content warning: this post contains images of offensive language.]
After a grand jury failed to indict Officer Darren Wilson for Michael Brown’s murder on November 23rd, many Americans found themselves frustrated by a seeming inability to do anything in the wake of this tragedy. As we do, people took to the internet to express their sorrow and outrage (or, in some cases, excitement and triumph), using Twitter and Facebook as the public soapboxes they are, but it quickly became clear that shouting into the same void that everyone else was shouting into wasn’t creating the change that was needed.
On November 26th, one exasperated Tumblr user started a new blog: Racists Getting Fired. The page, as the name suggests, is dedicated to publicly revealing the identities of people who use social media to express racist viewpoints, and then contacting their employers. Reading the blog requires one big trigger warning, as it features screenshots of profiles covered in KKK memes, looting jokes and, of course, insanely-rampant use of the N-word. RGF’s curator claims to have already “gotten” a handful of racists fired on their “gotten” page, with many more still ready for the “gettin’.”
It is, admittedly, super-duper satisfying to watch brazen social media racists get fired, as brazen social media racists are often an intoxicating combination of stupid and arrogant. One young man who asserted that “N*ggers are fucking ignorant” later updated his feed to say “all the haters are trolling through my pics trying to find shit on me,” implying that said haters would be unsuccessful thanks to his Twitter name reading simply, “VA TRUCK DRIVER.” He had forgotten, however, a 2013 tweet in which he wrote “My name is (his actual first, middle, and last name) and if you dont like me you can kiss my ass” (sic). He has since been suspended from his job driving a truck in Virginia.
While Racists Getting Fired does not cite Ferguson as a galvanizing force, it is clear from the content that it is a reaction to the reaction to what has happened, and what has failed to happen, in Missouri. Many of the titular racists’ posts are directly concerned with Mike Brown, Darren Wilson, or the people of Ferguson, and other posts provide advice for preparing for protests or being arrested. RGF’s creator claims to want to deal with all stripes of racism, but other than one transphobic post, the soon-to-be-fired are uniformly anti-black.
As of Tuesday morning, December 2nd, the founder of Racists Getting Fired has retired. The anonymous founder has put out a call for new moderators and vowed, "i will retire, but this will not die." Why quit while ahead? The blog boasts an upwards of 39,000 followers and has been featured on Buzzfeed and Business Insider. But after the Tumblr began to receive some media attention, the blog and it’s owner reportedly became targets for avengers from 4chan and reddit as well as threats of a lawsuit, and the site’s creator plead for help from her followers. RGF was admittedly unprepared for this kind of firestorm and is unsure of the legal ramifications of running a blog that reveals the names and employers of average Americans. In addition, on November 29th, a back-and-forth between the site’s unnamed curator and Tumblr user SoraDiesinKH3 was posted. In this conversation, SoraDiesinKH3 let RGF know that some Black Tumblr users (SoraDiesinKH3 included) felt “testy” about an Asian person garnering a large following off of anti-anti-Black racism, resulting in an impressively civil and ultimately resolved conversation but then: days of silence, followed by retirement.
So what can we make of this kind of action? On one level, it is simply holding people accountable for what they post in public forums, which is a hard but reasonable lesson of the modern internet. But who does it help, and what good does it do? Unlike Alanah Pearce’s inspired tattletale campaign against teen boys who have threatened to rape her, these Internet monsters are not directly attacking the curator of Racists Getting Fired or the even the submitters who provide the blog’s content. Why does doxxing the people whose names happen to have been submitted result in any kind of justice? And can we really think that the "lessons" being taught are being received? RGF doesn't, for instance, ask a family member to have a serious discussion with an Internet troll about values, it asks an employer to make a decisive, professional judgement. While a handful of the “gotten” have apologized, economic disenfranchisement rarely creates allies. While watching VA Truck Driver apologize for his comments is cathartic, and honestly, hilarious, it seems naive and unreasonable to think that there is now less hate in his heart. And of course (of course!), this kind of vigilantism is inherently prone to mistakes. Already, one young woman, a Brianna Rivera, was the victim of a doctored profile. It is clear from RGF’s stressed out call for help that while this blog attempts to adhere to a strict code of standards, mistakes can and will be made. It might feel good to lash back, and it certainly feels good to see apparent justice meted out to those who are silly enough to think their public declarations can't hurt them, but this is a dangerous impulse, and one that creates further division.
Wonderfully, the Internet has already designed so many more productive ways to show support for the protesters in Ferguson. The ACLU’s petition to tell the DOJ to ban racial profiling is available for signing, as is the MoveOn.org petition to file federal charges against Darren Wilson. Thinkpieces have been shared and reading lists recommended, because there is still so much listening to do. Thousands have put their money in America to work, donating to the Ferguson public library – a cause spearheaded by BuzzFeed’s Ashley Ford and encouraged by Neil Gaiman, Roxane Gay and Rachel Maddow, among others – and the Ferguson Movement Infrastructure Fund and to #BlackLivesMatter. There are things to do, there are thoughts to share, there is money to give. The social effort behind #Ferguson is already using the Internet to create real, tangible progress – and no one even has to get fired.