‘Outing’ Someone On Twitter Can Be Dangerous – And Illegal

Anonymous outed some pedophiles earlier this year and were widely (and appropriately) lauded online for that bit of handiwork.

But in this latest ‘outing’ by Anonymous though, they apparently got it wrong, misidentifying a 71-year-old woman as the person behind a fake Connecticut school shooter account.

According to The Daily Beast, the person they identified is NOT the right person.

Ms. F., says she is a divorced minister and quilting enthusiast who moved to Saint Charles to be closer to her family. She says she doesn’t know the alleged Twitter, nor does she use Twitter. “I am 71 years old I don’t do social networking,” she told the Daily Beast Tuesday. She said she has tried to contact Twitter about the mix up, but thus far the number she has been calling has been a fax line.

No harm, no foul? Not really.

Sure, a few phone calls might not be a big deal, but a 71-year-old receiving nearly 600 angry calls may disagree. Just as folks who were called nonstop for DAYS by Justin Bieber fans would likely disagree. It’s more than a nuisance – it’s harassment. And that’s what “Ms. F” is looking into:

Ms. F. has also called the local police, who are now investigating the case for cyber-harassment. Lt. Craig McGuire of the Saint Charles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that she lives at that address and said the department’s cyber-crimes unit is handling the case. . . . The head of the cyber-crimes unit, Chris Mateja, said the unit is going through the answering-machine messages to determine whether they constitute harassment.

Is calling it harassment a bit much? How about libel? Though she wasn’t named in this instance, there are plenty of times when folks are – and they’re innocent. Take the case of Lord McAlpine, for instance. He was unfairly labeled a pedophile on Twitter and people have already paid for what they said – and will continue to pay long after his libel case is settled.

And finally, outing someone is just downright dangerous even if you know it really IS them. Just yesterday there was a swarm of Swedish students that descended on a high school reacting to rumors that one of its students started an offensive Instagram account. Whether or not she did is immaterial – what would have happened to her if they found her is what matters. Mob mentality is scary.

What do you think of this increasingly common practice of outing people online?

(Pointing angry image from Shutterstock)

@MaryCLong maryclong@digitalmediaghost.com Mary C. Long is Chief Ghost at Digital Media Ghost. She writes about everything online and is published widely, with a focus on privacy concerns, specifically social sabotage.