Social Autopsy: A Platform for Online Shaming and Mob Rule?

The concept of a database built to shame users isn’t new: Trolldor was created to catalog trolls on Twitter in 2014. However, databases like these can be open to abuse.

Online bullying and trolling are problems that seem notoriously difficult to root out. A counter-behavior, online shaming, can also be problematic on social media, as mobs amass to dole out punishment for perceived transgressions. Social Autopsy, a database for exposing users engaged in hate-filled behavior, has reignited discussion over these issues.

Social Autopsy started as a Kickstarter campaign created by Candace Owens, CEO of creative agency Degree180. Unfortunately, the campaign was suspended April 14 for violating the Kickstarter terms of service; however, Owens vows that the team still intends to launch Social Autopsy.

The stated purpose of the site is to analyze the digital footprint of users engaged in abusive behavior. Anyone connected with that user through a social site would be able to check the database and see examples of reported content. The database would not be broadly searchable through keywords and would only retain the information for one year.

The concept of a database built to shame users isn’t new: Trolldor was created to catalog trolls on Twitter in 2014. However, databases like these can be open to abuse. Where Trolldor uses impartial metrics to indicate the chance of a user being a troll, Social Autopsy seems to want to hold users up to speculation, explicitly among their friends, coworkers and others with whom they are connected.

But it doesn’t take long for a single internet post, genuinely abusive or not, to spiral out of control. Indeed, the mob mentality of social sites can change the lives of users forever. Add to this mentality the fact that several users were able to access pages within Social Autopsy’s database that they shouldn’t have had access to, and the site presents a danger because it gives the angry mob access to other users’ personal information. Some users have gone as far as calling it a doxxing platform.

Assuming that this information was only available to its intended audience, does it help make the internet a more compassionate place? Given reactions in the past, it’s easy to assume that this could become a central hub for users to jump on bandwagons and set about delivering mob justice online.

There may be solutions for these sorts of problems in the future, and some initiatives look very promising. However given the stated purpose of Social Autopsy and the disastrous online response, perhaps this isn’t the path to a more civil internet.