MikeB in the comments raises a point about why people bother tracking down information on others, and making efforts to “out” people. He seems to believe this is wrong, and in many contexts I would agree with him. I think it’s a worthwhile discussion to have as to what tactics are out of bounds, and which are in bounds. I think that’s a tricky topic, because the line is pretty fine. But I can discuss my feelings on the matter.
If you read professional agitators like Saul Alinsky, they speak on this topic as well, and Alinsky thought everything was on the table if you didn’t have a more ethical path available forward. That’s actually a high standard, if you think about it, but I think outing Horwitz meets that standard. The other side must have thought that too, which is why they used it against John Lott when he was caught doing it. I agree that was fair game too.
There’s really three levels I think activists are entitled to live their lives on; their political lives, their personal lives, and their private lives. In a political struggles, one’s political life is fair game. Their personal lives can be too, depending on how much of an effort there is to keep it private, which is the part I think we should have an awful prejudice against violating. Let me give some examples.
A few years ago I smeared a Board Member of CeaseFire PA with something in her personal life. But it was something in her personal life she made no real attempt to keep private, as it was on an easy to find public web site, under the same name she practiced her activism with. I thought it was fair game, and wanted to make a point to her about tolerance. This was on the heels of outing another CeaseFire PA board member we had strong evidence was a vile troll, posting racist garbage on web sites pretending to be a gun rights advocate. In this case he did make an attempt to conceal his identity, but his tactic was so vile, disgusting, and destructive to our cause, that he really left no choice other than to expose him once we had all gathered enough evidence.
Outing Josh Horwitz alleged sock puppet is attacking his political existence, not his personal existence, and certainly not his private existence. He’d be using said sock puppet to further his side on this political struggle. His identity is well known within the issue, and he freely associates his name with it in his role as a paid gun control advocate. His sock puppetry is directly related to the issue, only crosses into his personal life in so much as it reveals him to be an angry bastard, so it’s within bounds.
Now if a gun control advocate, even a professional one, had been found having discussions with other consenting adults on, say, an S&M forum, and made a reasonable effort to keep that private, or keep it separated from the issue, exposing that would be out of bounds. Back to the previous example, if I had been forwarded a private e-mail from Ms. Stein about her involvement in MUFON, or seen her at a meetup, I would not have used it. I would also argue someone using an alias (not a sock puppet) in an attempt to keep their personal and political lives separated, and their private life private, is also out of bounds for outing.
But using personal or private information in for a political purpose is completely different from using it purely for harassment or intimidation purposes, which is always wrong, and often unlawful. I think everyone, even gun control advocates, are entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy and fair play in their personal and private lives. We should proceed on that assumption moving forward.