Behind the curtain: GigaOM debates @ComfortablySmug and web vigilantes

Identity, privacy and responsibility can be tricky topics on the web and on social media platforms like Twitter. One Twitter user, @ComfortablySmug, incensed New Yorkers this week by tweeting false statements about power outages and flooding at the height of Hurricane Sandy’s effect on that city. He later apologized, but the damage has been done: His identity was revealed by Buzzfeed, which cost him his job, and the New York District Attorney’s office is said to be looking into the possibility of filing charges against Shashank Tripathi (although, as Jeff Roberts explains here, that’s probably not going to happen).

After an internal discussion on the topic provoked a stronger debate than usual amongst the GigaOM editorial team, we decided to post that discussion (typos, naughty language, and all) here to give you a sense of how we kick things around internally. We use Socialcast as our internal collaboration and discussion tool.

As usually happens with topics of this nature, Mathew Ingram kicked off the discussion by announcing that he planned to write a piece on the aftereffects of the outing of @ComfortablySmug. (That piece can be found here.)

That sparked a far more lively debate than usual for one of Mathew’s posts (among GigaOM folks, anyway). Roberts, a New Yorker with a more personal take on Tripathi’s behavior after relying on Twitter during the heart of the storm for vital information, piped up immediately, referencing the possible mistaken-identity case involving Amanda Todd and Anonymous:

The conversation evolved further: did Tripathi get what he deserved?

I couldn’t resist a joke about Mathew’s “self-cleaning oven” piece from earlier this week on Twitter and the spread of both misinformation and corrections. The “battle lines” began to form as we wondered how much guilt we could assign to Tripathi:

Executive Editor Ernie Sander weighed in at that point, opining that the world is the world, online or not, and that people who behave like jackasses in public shouldn’t be surprised to be singled out:

Mathew didn’t think it was quite that simple:

I urged people to think about the permanent ramifications that will be forever attached to Tripathi for doing something that, while quite stupid, wasn’t illegal and hasn’t been demonstrated to have caused actual harm to a single person:

Not everybody bought that line of thinking:

At this point, VP of Editorial Nicole Solis dropped some common sense:

And as he often does, Derrick Harris got the last definitive word:

Somehow I don’t think we’re done talking about this topic.