The New York Post loves doxxing protestors
A detailing of how the Post manufactures anti-protest misinformation and what you can do about it.
NOTE: The term “doxxing” typically entails publishing a person’s private details to public spaces in an effort to facilitate targeted harassment and abuse. The term as used in this piece functions in that broad framework, not as a straightforward address and phone number dump.
September 4th, 2020. Eight people are grabbed by NYPD’s Strategic Response Group (SRG) following a march that resulted in graffiti, smashed windows of national corporations, and a few trash fires. One of the people arrested is released without their mugshot published. The other 7 have their mugshots and legal names publicized by the NYPD, with the New York Post following in hot pursuit.
One of the arrestees becomes the Face of “entitled rich white kids” who the New York Post splashes all across their front page and feature heavily in follow-up articles critical of Black Lives Matter. She’s 20 and known among activists as a “total sweetheart,” quiet but friendly, who often contributes her time to mutual aid and food distribution efforts. When a photo of her smiling with a baby lamb becomes the Post’s front page, a shock of nausea rolls through the activist space. She and her parents end up fleeing the city — only for the Post to dox their new location and frame her parents’ position of privilege and wealth as hers, an indictment and a threat for prospective class traitors.
A few days later, I get a message on Signal from her (which she sent to anyone she’d ever been in contact with) notifying me that the NYPD had seized her phone and that she couldn’t respond to any messages. I received that text because I was in a group chat for food ops over the summer — a makeshift group of people who volunteered their time helping prepare and distribute free meals — and she was in that group. I reached out to another activist asking if they received the same message and they confirmed, their voice heavy and grim. A 20-year old who joined the movement hoping to help, portrayed as a violent rioter by the New York Post long before her court date.
Another person grabbed that night is a medic: In her backpack is medical supplies, which she brought in the event anyone was injured. A trained emergency medic, she was pursuing a creative career and supporting herself working in the restaurant industry, which she has worked in since she was a teen. At the height of the pandemic and unable to find restaurant or creative work, she was forced on to unemployment and chose to contribute her medic skills for free to those in need of medical assistance at demonstrations.
A third person arrested that night was a freelancer whose work evaporated when the pandemic struck. Like the medic, he also supported himself working low wage jobs while attempting to pursue his creative passions. He occasionally landed contracts that paid enough to survive, but never anything consistent — a circumstance any freelancer knows all too well and is a far cry from the lavish lifestyle one might assume from the contracts acquired.
The life of a freelancer isn’t the glamorous one of the olden days where you could fart something out and have your rent paid for six months: I’ve been published in a slew of outlets and even wrote trivia for a tv show’s quiz app. I’m also on Medicaid and have only ever consistently worked low wage kitchen and retail jobs. I currently survive off unemployment and Patreon, where I take home less than minimum wage.
Were I arrested and doxxed by the Post, though, none of that vital context about my work or my life would be noted. That’s because the New York Post makes a deliberate effort to vilify and criminalize anyone they view as a threat to the puritanical, white supremacist police state they so fervently want their readers to imagine is synonymous with “civil society.”
In fact, the Post’s habit of using their pages to make anti-police demonstrators guilty in the eyes of the public is so well-known, activists have made a habit of checking it following arrests, often wondering aloud at jail support (as comrades are being booked following that day’s cop riot), “Has the Post doxxed anyone yet?”
The New York Post is the oldest daily circulated newspaper in the country. Founded by Alexander Hamilton, the Post once served to provide news coverage. Today, with a circulation of just shy of a quarter-million copies a day, it’s a conservative tabloid best known for pun headlines and baseball recaps.
I was once published in the Post detailing the overwhelming backlash I received following an open letter I wrote criticizing my company’s low wages. It was a piece that manifested as a favor: a friend knew an editor and pitched the piece to her. This was a publication that previously wrote about how my employer was in the right for firing me for whistleblowing on their wages — a stance that even legal scholars and labor lawyers refused to take.
For my side to be published by them — even though they chose a headline that would have encouraged people to derived unbridled satisfaction at my perceived demise — proved incredibly useful agitprop: My inbox was full of readers who started their emails with “I’m a Republican, but…” and ended with them realizing labor rights wasn’t a matter of left vs. right and a living wage isn’t resolved with “just work harder,” as many conservative politicians try to frame it.
When I’d later try pitching about how meritocracy is a myth or the pandemic was impacting low wage workers, I was ignored. Because the Post isn’t a place where people’s narrow view of the world is expanded, only reinforced.
So, how does the New York Post work in conjunction with the NYPD, and why do they dox protestors in particular? It’s simple, and once you see the pattern, you see it in a ton of their stories and learn to recognize that the Post relies on its legacy to justify its current iteration of normalizing rightwing propaganda.
- The Tipster
- The Reframe
- The Dox
- The Intent
It is not uncommon for the NYPD, through their official public relations networks, to notify local outlets of breaking news. When a courthouse cop committed suicide in the bathroom of Family Court, it was the New York Post that was first to get the grim details. For activists, the process is much more suspect. Unnamed “sources” provide details — often wrong — following a demonstration wherein protestors are detained.
One activist once told me about a time in which, while being detained, her arresting officer pulled out her ID card and photographed it on his personal cell phone. The assumption being that he was going to send it to the Post. It was a non-New York ID, prime targeting for the Post’s beloved “outside agitator” narrative. Fortunately, she wasn’t doxxed by the Post — but that’s likely because they couldn’t find anything gotcha-worthy in a people search.
More recently, the bodycam footage of an NYPD detective was released to the Post showing a demonstrator slinging racist slurs at him. While the detective at the time said he wasn’t pursuing a complaint about it, he later changed his mind (most likely a result of the PBA, an explicitly racist association of cops and former cops, urging him on). That detective decided to sue the demonstrator with an absurd lawsuit claiming severe emotional damages. It’s an empty intimidation tactic that won’t go anywhere. But it raises questions about the information pipeline between the NYPD and the Post (how did they acquire that footage?) and how quickly the Post will rush to run cop-friendly stories.
Beyond “anonymous” sources, the Post’s articles are mostly just aggregated content pulled from other news agencies. There’s no hard hitting journalism happening at the Post. There is no Spotlight at the Post. Just content farmers who love cops.
Any article in the Post positions itself in a puritanical framework. Remember that EMT who had an OnlyFans page to help her make rent? The story there is about an essential worker doing the hardest job in a pandemic who relied on unconventional modes of income because she wasn’t being paid enough saving lives. The story the Post went with was one of pearl-clutching hysteria about the prospect of someone coming to save your life who also wears lingerie. The Post framed the EMT as something dirty and despicable, as if what someone does when they’re not restarting your heart matters to you when you’re in the middle of cardiac arrest.
The same goes for protestors. Nonviolent actions that result in cop riots are readily written up as mindbogglingly evil. If people toss trash bags in the street or spray-paint something or break a window, the Post writes about it like it’s a sign of the apocalypse. They never want their readers to recognize that minor property damage is a means of criticizing people’s sense of protectiveness about a window that can be replaced over human lives that are stolen by police violence, the human bodies beaten in the streets, the families harassed for living in a certain zip code.
What’s more is the Post is so eager to write-up these bogus narratives that they don’t bother to engage in even the most basic of fact checks, resulting in ridiculous claims about “the anarchist group Black Bloc” or demonstrators spray painting “a cab.”
The puritanical reframe the Post engages in is intended to appease and reinforce rightwing, deeply conservative perspectives. They don’t fact check because they don’t need to: The Post’s entire effort is to get you, the reader, to keep checking their pages for more documentation of things you’ve been told by the Post you should be afraid of because they’re signs that the American Values you’ve only ever known nostalgically are slipping further away. It’s propaganda 101.
As I noted at the top of this piece, I use the term “doxxing” in a fairly broad framework. The Post doesn’t literally publish someone’s exact address, but they publish enough that you could likely find it on your own, and many activists have told me that is exactly what has happened following coverage by the Post.
If not for media laws guaranteeing the Post would go bankrupt from lawsuits if they went so far as to publish that level of personal information, the Post would likely churn out names, dates of birth, and addresses of protestors. Instead, they (and the NYPD) rely on something known as Freedom of Information and an overly broad media law about “matters of public interest.”
For something to qualify as a matter of public interest, it needs to hit a few parameters:
- The information is beneficial to the general welfare of society; i.e., a whistleblower exclusive about unsafe working conditions at their workplace
- The information improves the public’s understanding of a broader issue; i.e., undercover footage captured at an abortion clinic where practitioners are forced to tell patients anti-abortion propaganda to pressure them out of undergoing an abortion
- The information increases accountability and transparency; i.e., ProPublica’s release of civilian complaints against NYPD officers whether they’ve been investigated or not, or tax documents for a major corporation are published
- The information corrects a significant wrong; i.e., A politician claims to have never sent explicit texts to an underaged person and the texts are published showing the contrary.
The NYPD, meanwhile, justifies publishing the mugshots of people arrested at demonstrations on the basis that they claim knowing these faces and names helps people be aware of “dangerous” individuals. They include with the mugshots the names and ages of the arrestees, which is about all you need to thoroughly dox someone. The NYPD knows this. It’s why they wear fake badges with made-up numbers and bend over backwards to protect their own. Other police departments even went so far as having cops cover their names and badge numbers to prevent being doxxed.
Of course, if you ask the NYPD or the Post if they collaborate to dox activists, they’ll tell you an outright lie and say no. The Post waits until the next morning or later in the day after arrestees have been booked and released to publish their reporting, relying on the NYPD’s Twitter account to publish the mugshots.
The only problem?
Like the EMT with the OnlyFans, a majority of Post pieces about demonstrators aren’t “of public interest” until after the Post writes a scandalous headline about them. That EMT was just living her life before the Post got a “tip” that she had an OnlyFans. There is nothing of public interest in detailing the secondary source of income of a private individual, and there’s a good chance if she sued the Post for their inflammatory outing that she’d take home a not insignificant chunk of change for it.
Deliberately and consistently misreporting the circumstances surrounding a cop riot is what makes a Post dox “of public interest” retroactively. Were they to accurately report on a demonstration and the circumstances surrounding arrests, they’d quickly find themselves writing little more than a bland summary that ends with cops deciding to lose their shit. I know this because I’ve reported on actions that the Post covers later. Comparing between the two is like night and day: On the one side, you have a milquetoast stroll around town that escalates because police decide to escalate. On the other, you have a terrifying rampage wreaking havoc across the city that is only heroically extinguished by countless goons before the havoc could make its way to your doorstep and turn your baby into a wretched communist. It’s absurd that reporters at the Post get a 401K and dental insurance to lie as much as they do.
Behind every Post article about BLM demonstrations or anti-fascist demonstrators is an intent to harass and intimidate others. Remember when I mentioned people at jail support wondering if arrestees had been doxxed by the Post yet? That’s their goal. They’re working with the NYPD to scare people away from getting involved because it runs the risk of totally fucking up your life. Imagine applying for your dream job and the interviewer googles your name and sees headlines calling you a violent rioter, a “rich kid” who got “busted” in a “BLM rampage.” The fear of that — as well as you and your family facing insurmountable harassment — is what gives people pause.
Speaking as someone whose google results are forever fucked because I had the audacity to post photos of nice things while poor, I can say that it does have an impact. HR departments do flag those things. Companies and workplaces do think about the risk of associating with you. But they usually brush it aside, measure you based on your skills, and recognize that the Post labeling you entitled ends up shaking out to you standing on the right side of history.
I think about the S4 arrests often because that was the first time since the Floyd uprising began that the Post worked overtime to craft a heinous narrative — portraying 7 people as privileged white kids when half of them weren’t white, most of them weren’t privileged, and none of them were kids. It was the first time for a lot of people that opsec — shorthand for ‘operations security’ — was seen as a necessity, not an option. It was the first time a lot of people realized the enormity of their opposition, how much sway and power white supremacist capitalism has and the lengths it will go to to crush dissent. And it was the first time activists realized they needed to be prepared for whatever happened to them.
Every person arrested on S4 was charged with felony riot (amid other charges) and every person arrested on S4 was given an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal — otherwise known as an ACD, which essentially means “be good for 6 months and this will be wiped from your record.” The reason everyone received ACDs was because everyone was wearing black bloc. One person was given an ACD and rejected the offer and all their charges were dropped. The prosecution acknowledged that they couldn’t prosecute the arrestees because they couldn’t find any proof that they, specifically, engaged in any felonious activities. Contrast to the protestor being sued for hurling racist slurs — whose entire face is visible on that detective’s bodycam — and the argument for anonymity and obscuring identifying details makes itself.
However, with people entering and exiting the protest space who have varying levels of opsec knowledge, individual decisions like whether or not to wear black bloc or disconnecting your social media from your legal name are not sufficient in ensuring collective safety. I constantly try encouraging people to stop livestreaming because pivoting to hard footage is a single adjustment one person can make to improve the safety of many. Same goes with not filming faces or incriminating behavior. When the options are expecting a hundred people to all make the same choice or one person making a few adjustments that protect hundreds, it’s pretty obvious which one is the easiest to put into practice that most readily has the fastest returns.
So what can you do to help keep countless protestors safe against the coordinated efforts of the NYPD and the New York Post to intimidate, harass, and dox people as they pursue their First Amendment rights?
As of today, there’s a shiny new website that just launched seeking to enact policy that changes how and when the NYPD can publish or leak the names, mugshots, and addresses of private individuals arrested at a protest: https://www.protecttheprotesters.com/
On that site is an email kit with a template to contact local NYC officials. Already, Council members Carlina Rivera and Keith Powers have vocalized interest in exploring the NYPD’s use of overly broad “public interest” laws to intimidate and dox protestors.
Electeds in New York City have a tendency to express interest in pursuing righteous causes before getting busy and moving on to other issues. That the few who have already been contacted were sympathetic should not be taken as a victory. Instead, it is a sign that there is a viable pathway toward abolishing this harassment tactic — but it’s going to take a lot of people making a lot of noise for a long time to see substantive change.
While the creators behind the site and the push to #ProtectTheProtesters are remaining anonymous for their safety, I spoke with one person involved in the project and asked for comment:
“The New York Post and outlets that pick up their biased and inaccurate work have a history of working hand in hand with the NYPD to dox and intimidate protesters and stoke a climate of fear surrounding anti-racist/anti-fascist demonstrations in NYC. The current gaps in law that enable this dangerous yellow journalism must be closed.
We look to our legislators to enact policy that will protect protesters from this continued campaign of abuse and harassment.”