Is it ever right to target an individual?

I blogged a longish piece about the ethics of using your platform to target an individual, as we recently saw with Bill and Emma Keller targetting Lisa Adams; and, recently, Caleb Hannan “outing” Dr V for being born a different sex in a piece about golfing equipment. Not to mention how so many piled on Justine Sacco, Melissa Bachman, and so on. I really dislike how this occurs and wish platforms were recognised as unequal between people, especially in light of people’s identity (the internet is not, in fact, a fan of women or trans persons for example).


  1. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    What shockingly inapt comparison—racist Justine Sacco as the “victim” of a pile-on, and Dr.V, outed for being trans and who then committed suicide?

    This kind of both sides-ism is ethically backwards. You really surprise sometimes, Tauriq. Do you really mean this? Do you really think these vastly different categories are of a piece?

  2. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    I didn’t read the article as making a comparison between the cases, or implying that the harm done in those two cases was same or even similar.

  3. says

    Yeah, I read most of the “Dr V” article but stopped at the “OMG she’s a man!” reveal. What a terrible excuse of a journalist.

  4. Pen says

    @ Josh, #1 – So your position is that it is sometimes right to target an individual, provided you are certain that they’re objectively wrong or immoral.

    Fine, but the possibility exists that someone thinks targeting individuals is ALWAYS wrong regardless of what category they fall into. In the same way, I happen to think capital punishment is always wrong regardless of whether those executed are women who have been raped, serial killers, or traitors to their country. In fact once I’m asserting that capital punishment, or targeting individuals is ALWAYS wrong, I don’t even have to think about what category someone’s action falls into to assess the rightness of killing them or targeting them on the Internet.

    Note that I’m not picking holes in your obviously different conclusion on targeting here, merely with your expression of surprise.

  5. Robert B. says

    Pen, it was a rhetorical surprise, a way of critiquing Tauriq’s ethical judgment. Josh may or may not have been literally surprised, but either way that wasn’t really his point. Also, if you read the linked article, Tauriq’s own answer to his title question is “sometimes, depending,” so your argument isn’t relevant to the case.

    (By the way, if you can describe your ethics with the phrase, “I don’t even have to think,” you’re on dangerous ground.)

    More generally, what the heck does “target” even mean in this case? It’s an awfully vague word, seeming to cover everything from vicious harassment to firm critique to all the various shades of mockery. That’s really sloppy thinking. Replace the word “target” with more precise terms that it thoughtlessly subsumes – like “harass”, “critique,” “make fun of,” “reveal the identity of” – and you’ll see a bunch of distinct questions pop up that you probably have different answers to, or at least different reasoning.

  6. John Horstman says

    Yes, if a person consistently (and persistently, when called on it) behaves in harmful manners towards others, it is an ethical imperative that one ‘target’ that person in some way attempting to prevent or mitigate the harm. Much like ‘bullying’, homicide, war, etc. it’s not the particular class of act in and of itself that can be labeled moral or not, acceptable or not, it’s the particulars of the context that determine the ethics, as the context has a whole lot to do with the impact of the action. Using a platform that grants one social/discursive power to destroy the credibility of a persistent bad actor – David Koch, for example – is an unmitigated good; using that same platform to harass a trans athlete because you think certain body modifications are icky is not okay. That particular decontextualized acts are inherently BAD is a proposition of an essentialist ethical framework, and I hope we all know why those tend to be deeply problematic.

    Robert B. #5 also raises some good points about the poor specificity of the word “target”.

  7. Pen says

    @ Robert #5

    (By the way, if you can describe your ethics with the phrase, “I don’t even have to think,” you’re on dangerous ground.)

    Not really. My argument is equivalent to saying ‘I reject creationism so I don’t even have to think about whether God created birds on the 5th day or was it really the 4th?’ If all of a given set of conditions are rejected, I don’t have to think about whether some are more rejected than others. The question doesn’t even make sense.