This has been a banner week for the media. First, The New York Times was forced to correct its estimate of the crowd size at President Trump’s rally in Nashville. Then MSNBC commentator Joy Reid was discovered to have published 9/11 conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic posts on her blog.
But the icing on the cake goes to HuffPost. It doxxed a private citizen on Twitter and sicced social media mobs on her family.
HuffPost reporter Luke O’Brien wrote a story about the Twitter user @AmyMek, who he identified as Amy Jane Mekelburg. Mekelburg has more than 200,000 followers on Twitter and has been retweeted by President Trump and former national security advisor Michael Flynn. She is a prolific tweeter, sending out as many as 25 tweets a day.
Mekelburg has tweeted a lot of disgusting and hateful things on her account. Most of the hate was targeted towards Muslims. She has accused Muslims of everything from child rape to engaging in a stealth campaign to bring Sharia law to the West. Mekelburg also tweeted cartoons and memes that urged the murder of Muslims.
O’Brien interviewed people he described as “ex-friends” of Mekelburg, who portrayed her as a racist. The former friends described examples of Mekelburg being rude and hateful in person towards Muslims and Middle Eastern-looking people.
For example, Mekelburg would excessively clean or refuse to use exercise equipment at the Planet Fitness she frequented if it had been used by a Middle Eastern person, they said. Interviewees also described an incident at a local service station where she bought bananas. An older Muslim immigrant was working the counter and she refused to speak to or look at him. She even refused to take change unless the man didn’t touch her, according to an unnamed former friend.
If the story was solely about how terrible a person Mekelburg is, I wouldn’t be writing this article. Instead, O’Brien went much further than just go after a widely followed Twitter account of a non-public figure. He involved innocent family members in the story and by doing that, he and HuffPost crossed a line.
HuffPost Sent Online Mobs After This Woman’s Family
As part of introducing Mekelburg, O’Brien wrote that her father owned a wholesale business that bears the family name. He also wrote that her brother operated a craft beer bar and restaurant that also bears the family name. Anyone who knows how to use Google would be able to easily identify both businesses.
O’Brien did not contact either her father or brother and give them an opportunity to comment. That was unethical because it didn’t give her family a chance to distance themselves from Mekelburg’s tweets. It left the impression that they either knew about or agree with her tweets.
The Mekelburg’s bar responded to the story online. They said they do not agree with Amy’s tweets and she has no connection to the bar.
— Mekelburg's (@Mekelburgs) June 1, 2018
Predictably, “Social Justice Warriors” have spammed the bar’s Yelp page, leaving bogus one-star reviews. Most of the poor reviews came from residents of places such as Washington state and San Francisco, California, who most likely have never stepped foot in the business.
Yelp has instituted its Active Cleanup Alert and is removing the bogus reviews, but the reviews have done damage. Leaving bogus Yelp reviews is a tactic both the Left and the Right use in the culture war.
Even the Mekelburg Co. wholesale business has not been spared SJWs’ wrath. The company is not on Yelp, but they are on Google, and the company is being attacked with one-star reviews. O’Brien’s reporting has hurt the business of innocent family members, despite there being no evidence they even knew about her tweets and the scariness of socially prosecuting entire families for the thought crimes of one member.
But O’Brien wasn’t done punishing the family for Amy’s tweets. Her husband, Salvatore “Sal” Siino, was an executive with WWE. As part of Siino’s job, he negotiated deals to bring the WWE to Saudi Arabia and was in the process of doing the same in the United Arab Emirates.
O’Brien was told that WWE knew about Mekelburg’s tweets, so he called WWE. Once again, WWE predictably fired Siino rather than deal with the negative fallout. Then O’Brien claimed that was in no way his responsibility.
Patrick Poole of PJ Media tweeted that O’Brien was trying to punish Mekelburg by destroying her husband’s career. “This falsely implies that the employer had some kind of responsibility that they had failed to act on.” Poole tweeted. “But since she was not the employee the only way they could distance themselves is to cut ties with her husband.”
“…a source told me [her husband’s employer] knew about AmyMek.” This falsely implies that the employer had some kind of responsibility that they had failed to act on. But since she was not the employee the only way they could distance themselves is to cut ties with her husband. pic.twitter.com/Utn2kW7pZr
— Patrick Poole (@pspoole) June 1, 2018
From O’Brien’s reporting, it’s clear that Siino and Mekelburg did not live together. He makes reference to Siino staying over at Mekelburg’s apartment in Fishkill, New York during Memorial Day weekend.
Anyone Who Disagrees With Me Is A Nazi or Fascist
O’Brien wasn’t content to just ruin the life of a random person on Twitter and her family. He decided to portray conservatives in general as racists. For example, O’Brien writes: “In 2014, she also started using neo-Nazi terms like ‘cultural Marxism.’” Cultural Marxism is an accurate description of the Left’s march through the institutions and widely used by conservative people and publications. This is a smear, plain and simple.
O’Brien also sought to portray criticism of major left-wing financier George Soros as anti-Semitism, while he was portraying Mekelburg as part of a vast anti-Muslim conspiracy on the Right.
O’Brien and the HuffPost have come under harsh criticism on social media for their reporting. But they’re not backing down. O’Brien told Right Wing Watch’s Jared Holt that the attacks were part of a right-wing mission to silence journalists.
"The mission is truly to silence journalists."https://t.co/hnK2xq3c8l
— Jared Holt (@jaredlholt) June 1, 2018
O’Brien has even gone as far to call those critical of his reporting “fascists.”
Get stuffed, fascists. https://t.co/MJ42xk9Llk
— Luke O'Brien (@lukeobrien) June 1, 2018
Doxxing Private Citizens Is Becoming an Ominous Trend
O’Brien’s attack on Amy Mekelburg’s family is part of a growing trend in the left-wing press to go after ordinary people for the views of others in their family. Earlier this year, The Daily Beast’s Taylor Lorenz revealed that the Oshry sisters, who are popular social media celebrities, are the daughters of anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller. Their morning streaming show was immediately canceled despite the sisters’ statements that they do not share their mother’s views.
Some in the media have even gone after private citizens who critique their ideas. Last year, CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski spent time investigating an average Joe who created a silly anti-CNN GIF that President Trump tweeted. He and CNN threatened to dox the creator but held off because, among other things, he took down all his “offensive” posts on Reddit.
Earlier this year, CNN sent a reporter to the home of a private citizen who had re-posted generic pro-Trump memes and events she didn’t know had been created by Russia disinformation agents. The reporter ludicrously and offensively accused the elderly woman of being part of a spy ring, and posted her name and identifying information which, not surprisingly, ended in internet mobs harassing her.
The doxing and social media mob culture has gone too far. “If we think justice is being served, is it suddenly okay to leak millions—or even one—private individual’s information online? And who is the ‘we’ who gets to make the decision about when it’s okay to dox someone and when it’s not?” asks journalist Bridget Phetasy.
The truth is, most if not all of us, have something to hide. It sets a terrible precedent to reveal the information of innocent family members and ruin their livelihoods. Far from discouraging hate, it helps drive legitimate discussion underground. It even makes it harder to persuade people to abandon hateful views. It is also horribly unjust to punish people for others’ misdeeds, whether the misdeeds are real or imagined.
Instead of revealing the identity of ordinary people on social media, the press should concentrate on covering politicians and other people in the public eye. They should use the proper procedure to get public records, using sunshine laws. Report on people who actually have influence on public life and policy instead of random people on social media. Otherwise, it will be no surprise if some American citizens come to the conclusion that some media figures have made themselves enemies of the people.
This article has been corrected to reflect that Kaczynski says the Reddit user, faced with CNN publishing his real name, “showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts” instead of CNN explicitly making that action a condition of them not publishing his name.