By all accounts, Cleveland’s Charles Ramsey is a fairly regular guy, a blue-collar working man, working when he can find work. There are a lot of people like that in America. They don’t attend wine tasting parties, they don’t do angel investing, they don’t have Invisalign, they don’t sound like Morgan Freeman when they’re speaking. A regular guy.
Your author, at the age of forty-one, considers himself a “digital native”, having programmed computers since the age of eight and being intimately familiar with everything from TCP/IP to cloud computing. Mr. Ramsey is my age, but his American experience has been very different. He was confused by the attention paid to his case, unsure as to why McDonald’s was “tweeting” about him or even what “tweeting” was, and he had no idea that he would immediately become the subject of “memes” the moment his face appeared on the television.
Most importantly, and this is highly relevant for his life, the lives of the children he helped save, and for the lives of people who might need help from someone like him in the future, he had no idea that he would be doxxed.
I suspect that most of my readers know what “doxxing” is, but if you don’t, here’s the definition. Doxxing is the act of putting together all the “dirt” on someone into compact, readable format, and sharing it with someone else, usually the web as a whole. You can read an excellent piece on a couple of high-profile doxxings at Wired.
My concern isn’t with the ethics of doxxing themselves. I’m not qualified to discuss that, because I’m not impartial about that; several years ago, I was the subject of a thorough and costly doxxing by a fellow who was, apparently, upset that I’d criticized some ultra-crappy article he’d written for a startup web publication. He distributed a pretty wildly exaggerated report of every terrible thing I’ve ever done to some contacts he’d cultivated at a couple of auto manufacturers. The way I found out about this was by having my flight to a press event canceled while I was sitting in the airport lounge. I had the dubious pleasure of spending the next couple of days calling people to get the stories straightened out. It was frankly unpleasant, to put it mildly.
I have a pretty healthy dose of contempt for my little doxxer. There’s something uniquely duplicitous about telling a bunch of people that someone you hate is a violent, dangerous individual while simultaneously personally trusting that said individual won’t do anything violent or dangerous to you as a consequence for your actions. It’s a coward’s move, this doxxing. But most importantly, it’s a one-way kind of tool that is employed by a certain type of person against another type of person. Rarely are “doxxers” counter-doxxed. This is because the doxxers, almost without exception, haven’t ever done anything in their lives.
I’m not saying they haven’t done anything bad.
I’m saying they haven’t done anything. Good or bad. Noteworthy or otherwise. They’re people who have always run away from anything that looked like a challenge or a confrontation. And if you always run from a challenge, you’ll never put anybody in the hospital or on the LifeFlight, but you’ll also never win any races. You’ll never spend a night in jail for assault, but you’ll probably also never create anything unique or worthwhile. You’ll never do something you wish you could take back, but you’ll also never do something that you look back on with complete and utter satisfaction.
Charles Ramsey has domestic violence convictions that are over a decade old now. He freely admits he made a mistake. He’s reconciled to some degree with his family and he hasn’t done anything terrible since then. Apparently he was a hot-tempered guy when he was younger. I don’t necessarily approve of what he’s done but the reverse is probably true as well. What he did in the year 2001 has little to no bearing on the actions he took in 2013, when he helped two women escape from a nightmare. The Guardian’s Gary Younge puts it pretty well:
So when Ramsey emerges as heroic, humane, empathetic, funny, compelling, generous and smart, there is a moment of cognitive dissonance on a grand scale. Here is a man with a criminal past and a crime-fighting present. In his profanity, loquaciousness, and animation he conforms to stereotype.
“Hey, check this out. I just came from McDonald’s, right? I’m on my porch, eating my li’l food, right? This broad is tryin’ to break out the fuckin’ house next door to me,” he tells the emergency dispatcher.
“She said her name was Linda Berry or some shit, I don’t know who the fuck that is. I just moved over here, bro.”
In his empathy, intelligence, and selflessness he contradicts the stereotype.
“Can you ask her if she needs an ambulance?” asks the dispatcher.
“Do you need an ambulance? Or what?” he calls to her. “She need everything. She in a panic, bro. I think she been kidnapped so, you know, put yourself in her shoes.”
Asked about the reward he might be entitled to, he says: “I tell you what you do. Give it to them [the victims]. Because if folks been following this case since last night, you been following me since last night, you know I got a job anyway. Just went picked it up, paycheck.”
Mr. Ramsey had no way of knowing that he would be doxxed as a result of his actions. But those of us who are “digital natives” know that, when your proverbial nail stands up higher than anyone else’s in the modern era, some little dweeb will feel compelled to try to hammer you back down. It’s frustrating and disheartening. It makes you want to sit back down and not create anything worth sharing. It makes you want to fade back into the crowd. That’s what the Nation Of A Million Doxxers truly, secretly wants: they want a Harrison Bergeron world where nobody is any better than they are. A world where the standards for creative excellence, bravery, and action are set at the level of the average Gawker commenter. A world where Charles Ramsey doesn’t intervene and put himself at risk for those women, because certainly none of them would and they have a right to not feel bad about themselves, don’t they?
Imagine you are Amanda Berry, trapped in a nightmare. You were held captive. Forced to give birth in a bathtub. Abused, degraded, treated like an animal for so long it’s started to sink into your mind and change who you are. You have a chance to escape. You scream for help.
Whom do you want to appear at the door? Do you want a Gawker commenter, some soft little wretch living in his mother’s basement by choice, anonymously demanding the doxxing of everybody from the “cunt punt” sorority girl to Filomena Tobias? Do you want Adrien Chen, who looks like he would run in terror from an angry six-year-old? Do you want my doxxer, some pasty pansy who’s never done anything beside write garbage and suck up to PR people? Whom do you want to rip open the door, pull you to safety, help you get your daughter, and possibly confront your tormentor, who could return at any moment? Do you want any of those people mentioned above, these asexual, cowardly curds of milk who fill chatrooms and stare at the floor in the subway and never, ever do anything besides what they’re told?
Or do you want the flawed, the damaged, the imperfect, the brave, the willing?
Do you want Charles Ramsey?