Be Careful What You Tweet: ‘Social Autopsy’ Project ‘Lifting the Masks’ on Social Media Accounts, Linking Users to Their Employers

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AP Photo/Isa Simsek, Zaman

A new search engine and database says it aims to expose the purveyors of anonymous online ‘hate speech’ to employers, friends, and families.

“Social Autopsy” is a new tech project seeking $75,000 in start-up funds on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform. Its stated goal is to build a database of social media accounts that engage in “online hate speech” and “cyber-bullying,” linking their online profiles to their places of employment. The project, founded by developer Candace Owens, promises to allow the public to access the “digital footprint” of individuals and companies.

So far, the team behind Social Autopsy claims to have built profiles on over 22,000 individuals, based on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram posts: “These individuals are your teachers, doctors, neighbours and business owners. And for the first time ever, you’ll be given the chance to run a real background check on them to see what these people represent behind closed doors.”

“There are literally thousands of instances of hate speech being circulated online,” warns Social Autopsy in their introduction video. “We are fostering a society of online bullying, social tormenting, and irresponsible sharing. With the ability to privatize social profiles and use pseudonyms in place of real names, it has been a free-for-all — until now.”

When the project launches, Social Autopsy will encourage ordinary web users to snitch on any friends, co-workers, or web acquaintances: “Have someone that you’d like to add to our morgue? Submit them! Our database is continuously grown by anonymous submissions from individuals like you.”

The introduction video proudly boasts that commenting is banned on the site. “We exist as a clean archive of an individual’s words only, from which employers, friends, and universities alike may draw their own conclusions.”

“Simply put, Social Autopsy is your digital footprint. So be mindful of the words that you share,” they warn.

Encouraging the “outing” of anonymous individuals on the internet, or revealing their private information, is known as “doxing” and is commonly portrayed as a form of online abuse. If Social Autopsy wants to expose anonymous online abusers, it may run afoul of Kickstarter’s terms of use, which expressly forbid abusing other people’s personal information.

However, in an interview with Reason columnist Cathy Young, project founder Candace Owens denied that Social Autopsy was a doxing service.

“Owens assured me that Social Autopsy was not meant to be a doxing platform and that no one making abusive posts anonymously would be ‘outed’ by name or place of employment,” writes Young. “The purpose of the database, she said, was only to preserve evidence of a person’s abusive social media posts and match it to publicly available information that they themselves included in their online profiles.”

However, in an email follow-up with Young, Owens said that the project would “explore the possibility” of outing online abusers as it grows:

We do not, at this stage, have the ability to out (nor was that our initial intention) anonymous accounts. That requires certain technology and a thorough understanding of legal ramifications. Of course we will explore this possibility as we grow and build, but let’s remember–we are on Kickstarter. Much too soon to have that conversation, and never our initial intent.

In other words, while the project is raising funds on Kickstarter — which prohibits doxing — Social Autopsy is explicitly not a doxing service. Afterwards — who knows?

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