Kevin Poulsen is the symptom, not the disease

By now you’ve likely heard about Kevin Poulsen, the Daily Beast writer who tracked down the guy who created the “drunk Nancy Pelosi” video. He turned out to be an African-American forklift operator from New York, and Poulsen plastered his name and face all over their page. This led to some significant backlash almost immediately. (Daily Caller)

The Daily Beast took a fair amount of heat over the weekend after doxxing a black forklift operator from New York over the fake “drunk Pelosi” video that circulated on social media.

The article, written by Kevin Poulsen, claimed to reveal the identity of the man who doctored the video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and was published on Saturday.

The DC has a laundry list of social media responses at the link and they all follow the same general theme. Click through to browse through them.

Poulsen was quite proud of this coup, taking to Twitter to announce his major “scoop.”

The reason I bring this up is an idea I was kicking around with some friends on Twitter last night. First, I think most people with at least a room temperature IQ can see why this was a horrible decision on Poulsen’s part. In as much as there’s any sort of actual “story” to be covered here, the Daily Beast added absolutely nothing to it. The story was the fact that the doctored video existed, as well as what was done with it later. (Such as the President or anyone else retweeting it.) The specific person who was looking to drag Pelosi a bit is irrelevant unless they too are a public figure. This was a flat-out case of doxxing somebody for holding conservative views.

But is Poulsen really the heart of the problem? The doxxing victim should probably attempt to sue both the reporter and the Daily Beast for damages, but that doesn’t answer the question of how Poulsen achieved his scoop in the first place. He points out in the original article that “a Facebook official, confirming a Daily Beast investigation, said the video was first posted on Politics WatchDog directly from [the user’s] personal Facebook account.”

Excuse me, but… what? A reporter from the Daily Beast can just pick up the phone, call up Facebook, and have an official there reveal one of their user’s personal information? How does that work? One might expect that they wouldn’t be doing that for anyone other than a law enforcement official with a warrant.

Facebook has long been seen to abuse people’s personal data, but they’re generally just selling it off in bulk so it can be used for targeted advertising purposes. This casual outing of one of their users so somebody from the Daily Beast can dox them is taking things to an entirely new level. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be upset with Paulsen. The guy did something reprehensible. But we should be saving some of our venom for Facebook and demanding answers as to what their actual policy is when it comes to protecting the personal data of their users.