Short Take: Crowdsourcing Hate

ProPublica has a mission, one that has usually proven enormously valuable at a time when reliable sources of information about what the government is doing are scarce.

The Mission

To expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions, using the moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing.

What’s not to like? That one phrase in there, “moral force,” stands out. It’s not just that morality is squishy and completely subjective, but that it would seem to create an internal conflict. Is the metric law and honesty, or is it morality? One can slough it off when the mission is directed toward “government, business and other institutions,” but ProPublica is now heading down a different path.

ProPublica is now “documenting hate.


The 2016 election left many in America afraid – of intolerance and the violence it can inspire. The need for trustworthy facts on the details and frequency of hate crimes and other incidents born of prejudice has never been more urgent.

At this point, there is simply no reliable national data on hate crimes. And no government agency documents lower-level incidents of harassment and intimidation, such as online or real-life bullying. Documenting and understanding all of these incidents – from hate-inspired murders to anti-Semitic graffiti to racist online trolling – requires new, more creative approaches.

The target of this putative documentation isn’t government or business. It’s not institutions. It’s individuals. They’ve created a database, for anyone to input a claim of a “hate crime” against them, to be available to media and others as a “reliable” source for their incidence.

Hate crimes and bias incidents are a national problem, but there’s no reliable data on the nature or prevalence of the violence. We’re collecting and verifying reports to create a national database for use by journalists, researchers and civil-rights organizations.

This immediately emits the scent of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has created a database of “extremist” organizations and individuals engaged in wrongthink that’s relied upon by the media to prove a group or person is evil. There is no hearing, no trial, no vetting of who gets tarred, and there are no hard definitions of what constitutes a “hate” group. If the SPLC says you’re evil, then you’re evil.

ProPublica appears to be doing the same, but with a twist. Rather than their putting names on the list of people, they are soliciting anyone on the internet to define their own hate crimes, provide the details as they deem fit, and thereby establish a database to be relied upon by the media to prove how pervasive hate crimes are in America.

Notably, it says that ProPublica will “verify” that the crimes occurred, which creates the appearance of legitimacy. How does one verify a claim by an individual against another individual, where the offense consists of “he called me a bad name”? Beyond checking emails and asking for the source to confirm its truthfulness, there isn’t much to be done.

On the main page of this project, two boxes appear.

If the “I’m a victim or a witness” isn’t scary enough, the “I’m a journalist” and want to “get involved” should make the alarm bells go off. Legitimate reporters don’t “get involved.” They report. They report facts. Advocates get involved, and they ignore facts that fail to bolster their position. As an added incentive, ProPublica promises to “promote stories you write using this data on the Documenting Hate site and social media accounts.”

And if all this sounds relatively official, Bob Ambrogi reports that there is a new app as a result of a “legal hackers”-type “design sprint” to facilitate reporting hate crimes.

What could possibly go wrong?

9 thoughts on “Short Take: Crowdsourcing Hate

  1. Bruce Coulson

    You mean, people might actually report crimes that didn’t happen? How often does that happen? (whispered aside from various sources) Uhh, never mind, then…

    1. SHG Post author

      Beyond “didn’t happen,” what makes it a crime? Much like the definitional problems with rape and sexual assault on campus, crimes aren’t what random people feel they are, but objectively definitional things, with actual elements, mental state, conduct and harm. Hate crimes are not whatever the most sensitive soul feels they are.

  2. PseudonymousKid

    Dear Papa,

    You can’t just drop a bomb like declaring morality completely subjective without more! Please do share how you solved that problem. I bet you thought real hard about it for a long time. When are you going to be published? Soon, I bet!

    What a useless exercise by ProPublica. Nothing good will come of it. It won’t gather any real data and will only feed the flames of whatever position you want it to. Confirmation bias killed this before it began. These people are making a paycheck, whether they are earning it is another story.


    1. SHG Post author

      They did this as a pro bono app for the victims. As if happens, they also have a mid libs app for sale. Coincidence?

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