NEW YORK – When you’re behind a screen, it’s easy to feel safe. No one can see you or hear you. You’re free to leave vicious YouTube comments, Facebook rants, and start Twitter feuds with sitting presidents.
Unfortunately, the truth is that what happens online does not necessarily stay there. If you’re not sure how vulnerable you are, you should take the time to research online safety tips.
In the meantime, here are the people and companies who proved that what happens online does not stay online.
For a brief period of time, Ashley Madison was all the rage. The website that encouraged infidelity, linking up married people with absolutely no risk of exposure, was booming. Adultery seemed to have changed forever. Then, a hacker collective stole all their user data and released it to the world.
It’s easy to sit back and laugh at the adulterous individuals whose secrets were leaked. Maybe they deserved it. Unfortunately, some couldn’t handle the shame and infamy and actually took their own lives.
“That woman who went to South Africa”
I don’t want to say her name because her consequent suffering has been brilliantly detailed in Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. I’d rather she had one less online mention to deal with, even if it won’t make any real difference. The American PR manager tweeted a distasteful, badly worded joke, implying that she couldn’t get AIDS because she was white. The internet tore her to pieces, leaving her out of a job, depressed, and isolated for more than a year. All of that for an offensive comment that was obviously a joke.
Since then, many Twitter users have been far more hesitant to tweet freely. While this may be a good thing in some cases, others are scared of letting even the most innocuous comment slip – it might just be taken out of context and ruin their lives.
Hillary Clinton may be the most infamous politician for being felled by her online activity. Her emails likely cost her the presidency. But while the content of her emails was mostly excruciatingly boring, other politicians have had much worse exposed. Trump’s White House has already fallen victim to compromising emails which might play a big part in future impeachment hearings.
In South Africa, political emails have been even more explosive. Everyone knew for a long time that an obscenely rich Indian family – the Guptas – had used their financial means to “capture” the president and members of parliament. However, the “Gupta leaks” exposed their behavior, and that of associated businesses in all its ignominy. British PR firm Bell Pottinger was exposed for working with the Guptas to sow racial tensions in South Africa. It was shortly thereafter expelled from its professional body and went into administration.
They weren’t the only corporation hit by the leaks. Other companies working with the Guptas, including auditing firm, KPMG.