After California voters passed Proposition 8 last fall, some opponents of the measure were quite angry. In addition to public protests, some people set up web sites singling out Mormon supporters of the measure, using public records to identify them. Other web sites listed all Prop. 8 supporters, regardless of their religious background. This led to all sorts of targeted harassment. A hostess at a Los Angeles Mexican restaurant was targeted for her $100 contribution in support of Proposition 8. She was forced out of her job, as were a Sacramento theater director and the director of the Los Angeles Film Festival.
It's not that these stories haven't been covered at all, but I have been so surprised that the mainstream media isn't more interested in the blacklisting of Mormon, Evangelical, Catholic and other supporters of Prop. 8. I mean, how often do you hear about the Hollywood blacklist that targeted screenwriters, actors, directors and musicians because of their political beliefs? How many movies have been made and articles written about that mid-century phase of McCarthyism that targeted some of the wealthiest and powerful entertainment professionals in the country.
It just seems odd that we have this other blacklist targeting a group of people (including waitresses and lower-level entertainment professionals) for their political beliefs -- and there haven't been altogether that many stories. It just seems like such a salacious story that I'm surprised there hasn't been more coverage.
Having said that, the New York Times has written two stories in the last month that relate to the issue. On January 16, they published a story about an effort to protect some lower-level donors to Prop. 8 from having their personal information released. The story begins by describing how Google Maps technology has been used to help identify the addresses of donors to Proposition 8 and how those maps facilitate boycotts and targeting of people for their political beliefs. A lawsuit was filed by James Bopp saying that the harassment of Proposition 8 supporters violated their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly. The story has a bunch of interesting angles and also explains the allegations in the suit.
Yesterday's New York Times story covers some of the same ground, albeit with no visible religious angle. It's a business-section story and we learn that some Prop. 8 donors have received death threats and envelopes containing white powder, and their businesses have been boycotted. The article describes the site that uses data available under campaign finance disclosure laws to map where supporters of Prop. 8 live:
Visitors can see markers indicating a contributor's name, approximate location, amount donated and, if the donor listed it, employer. That is often enough information for interested parties to find the rest -- like an e-mail or home address. The identity of the site's creators, meanwhile, is unknown; they have maintained their anonymity.
[It] is the latest, most striking example of how information collected through disclosure laws intended to increase the transparency of the political process, magnified by the powerful lens of the Web, may be undermining the same democratic values that the regulations were to promote.
It's a really interesting story about how transparency laws may conflict with rights to privacy and freedom of speech. The story speaks with advocates of open government who say the sites are an unintended and unwelcome consequence. One professor at the University of California, who gave $100 in support of Prop. 8, says he thinks the technology used by some same-sex marriage supporters is fascinating but he wishes he hadn't gotten intimidating and harassing messages copied to his colleagues and supervisors. Here are a few other people:
Joseph Clare, a San Francisco accountant who donated $500 to supporters of Proposition 8, said he had received several e-mail messages accusing him of "donating to hate." Mr. Clare said the site perverts the meaning of disclosure laws that were originally intended to expose large corporate donors who might be seeking to influence big state projects.
"I don't think the law was designed to identify people for direct feedback to them from others on the other side," Mr. Clare said. "I think it's been misused."
Many civil liberties advocates, including those who disagree with his views on marriage, say he has a point. They wonder if open-government rules intended to protect political influence of the individual voter, combined with the power of the Internet, might be having the opposite effect on citizens.
"These are very small donations given by individuals, and now they are subject to harassment that ultimately makes them less able to engage in democratic decision making," said Chris Jay Hoofnagle, senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology at the University of California.
This may seem like a small thing but it's nice to see a reporter who understands that allegiances can change depending on the issue. People who support same-sex marriage may oppose campaign finance laws that interfere with democratic decision making. The story goes over some of the ideas people have offered for how to resolve the tension between transparency and privacy.
The one major flaw with the story is that it doesn't speak with anybody who is defending the boycott of Mormons and others who supported Proposition 8. Their views in defense of their actions should be included and explained. Otherwise, this story makes it seem like the only people who support the intimidation are anonymous. In fact, the people who run the main targeting site are, in fact, anonymous. But I know that others are out there since some read and comment on this blog.
Still, it's a great story and perfectly written for the business section. But this targeting and harassment and intimidation of Prop. 8 donors, some of them chosen as targets over others because they belong to a given religious denomination, is a terribly newsworthy story for other sections of the paper as well. Particularly with the huge religious ghosts lingering all around this ballot initiative and the response to the final vote.
Back in November I heard from someone whose entire company was being targeted for a boycott because one Mormon employee at the company gave money -- personally -- to support Prop 8. And with stories like this abounding all over the state (even extending to other states -- see sidebar at bottom of story), it just seems odd that there's not more media discussion of the ethics or implications of such targets. I think we can safely say that if the boycotts, threats and harassment were moving in the opposite direction the media would be a tad more interested.