The hacktivist group Anonymous announced last week that they would be outing hundreds of Americans who were involved with the Ku Klux Klan. The group claimed that they'd hacked KKK servers and obtained emails and documents that would reveal that many prominent American politicians were associated with the white supremacist group.
Then, on Monday, three days earlier than the group had announced it would release the names, someone claiming to represent Anonymous tweeted dozens of names of people they claimed were KKK sympathizers. Those who were outed included several Southern politicians.
Within minutes, the information was retweeted by hundreds of people. Several online articles were quickly written, then reposted on hundreds of Facebook pages. Oh, the outrage! Look at these racist Southerners!
Then the story began to crumble. Listed among those with KKK connections were Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, a Hispanic who's been active in minority issues for decades and whose family is multiracial. Also "outed" was Lexington, Kentucky, Mayor Jim Gray, who is openly gay and decidedly progressive in outlook. Both vehemently and credibly denied any association with the KKK.
What the heck was going on? The website TechCrunch.com got an email interview with the person claiming responsibility for the Anonymous leaks, someone posting under the nom de web of "Amped Attacks."
"I worked for nine days to gather and verify all the information that was gathered before its release," Amped Attacks told TechCrunch. "I got the information from several KKK websites when I [hacked] them and was able to dump their database. I went through many emails that was [sic] signed up with these sites and a few of the emails that sparked my interest was [sic] the ones of the politicians in question there would be no reason for them to be signed up on any KKK website unless they supported it or was involved in it."
Right. Using this logic, I could be "outed" as a supporter of Ted Cruz and Marsha Blackburn, both of whom email me daily with details of their glorious actions in service to the American Way. Somewhere in their servers, no doubt, I'm on a media list.
The official Anonymous Twitter account quickly distanced itself from the fake Anonymous Twitter account, claiming that their own outing of KKK members hadn't happened yet and would be much more reliable.
So, let's recap, shall we? The group Anonymous announced it was going reveal the names of members of another anonymous group but was trumped by the actions of yet another anonymous person pretending to be the official Anonymous.
If there's a more perfect example of how far we've fallen down the rabbit hole of instant "news" and instant reaction, I've not seen it. How many times a day do you see someone reposting some Internet meme on social media that reinforces their political view but has no grounding in fact? How many times does that lie get reposted to politically sympathetic friends, and reposted again, until it becomes "fact"?
We live in a world where everyone controls their own media sources, and the great majority of us gravitate toward sources that reinforce our own values and beliefs. Then we're astounded at how "misinformed" those are who disagree with us. It's because we're too often taking in points of view about the news, rather than the news itself.
Halloween is over. We need to remember that people wearing masks have at least one thing in common with people wearing hoods: You don't know who they are.