Only compelling article I've ever read in Wired: Writer Evan Ratliff abandons his previous life, starts a new one, offers $5000 to anyone who can find him
This is the ballsiest move I've seen a journalist make since Stephen Colbert talking smack to power at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006. It's one thing to humiliate the most powerful men in the world right in front of them, it's another to invite every cyberstalker on the Internet to collect a $5000 bounty on your own head. You can hide from the government, but you can't hide from everyone. Not in this ultra-connected, instant-communication era. Not in the age of Chinese Internet lynch mobs
leaving buckets of shit outside the Qingdao apartment of the parents of a Chinese exchange student
attempting to mediate between pro-Tibet and anti-Tibet demonstrators in North Carolina, or 4chan vigilantes paying unsolicited visits to the homes of Wikipedia editors
and inviting people to harass the friends, families, employers, and teachers of hackers
, porn stars
, and anyone who doesn't pay Anonymous enough respect
There is no privacy.
There is no escape.
There is no such thing as starting over.
It's funny how in the 1980s and 1990s people celebrated the anonymity of the Internet as our single greatest weapon against Big Brother, and now, in the 2000s, in an age where people put all their personal information on Facebook and broadcast their location live on Twitter, being tracked without their knowledge by GPS on their cell phones (how do you think 911 dispatchers know how to find you in an accident even when your phone is turned off?) and IP records on every instant message you send, every website you visit, every time you log in to check your bank statement or read your email. The public has become exactly what it feared of the government. None of this legal fiction about "public figures," now, anymore. On the Internet there is no such thing as a public figure. Or a privacy law, or a restraining order. Even the careful and the paranoid leave enough traces for anyone with Google to find real names, phone numbers, social security numbers, home addresses, work addresses, credit cards, screen names, email addresses, email passwords
, driver's license registrations, satellite images of their homes, and those of friends and next of kin. I'm not exaggerating--I've done
this sort of thing before. It's not like a '80s movie where it takes an awful lot of tech-savvy--the folks who do this are grandmas and bored teenagers. (I did it as a teenager!) Most of it isn't even illegal--and what the Internet lacks in rights of search and seizure it makes up for in sheer manpower.
Big Brother--ha. All this time we worried it'd be the communists, or the government. No, Big Brother is not the government. Big Brother is not the media. Big Brother is, to put it succinctly, you and me.
So it's strangely validating to see this one guy wipe himself off the Internet, anonymize his IP address, destroy his personal records, hop onto a bus to nowhere under an assumed name, and moon the Internet with "Come and get me, fuckers!" magic-markered on his ass as the bus zooms off into the desert. The guy prepared for months in advance; he knew all the tricks. He'd done plenty of research from when he'd written about it before
. Left false tracks, took the battery out of his cell, logged in to the Internet via proxies, used gift cards, altered his appearance, infiltrated and misled his pursuers online in their private Twitter groups and IRC channels, told not a soul. His account of the experience is harrowing--the paranoia, dwindling financial resources, and soul-crushing loneliness became just as dangerous to him as the threat of discovery. Starting anew, making new friends, trying to construct a new identity--all of those efforts threatened to compromise his location. And yet, there was no way he could go without them.
He lived for twenty-five days as a fugitive before the Internet curb-stomped his dick.
In the end, one thousand minds are better than one. You can throw them off the scent for a while, but in the end, if you are an alleged traitor, a rebel, an outcast, or any other class of undesirable, the Internet lynch mob will get you. It does not matter if the charges are fabricated--all it takes to libel someone on the Internet is reasonable suspicion. And once the hunt begins, you are not safe anywhere.