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Brian Boyd: Sunlight of tech disinfects Charlottesville

Unhidden by hoods and robes, white nationalists have been caught on camera

All of 100 years ago, a US supreme court justice, Louis Brandeis, had this to say about wrong-doing: "Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is the best of disinfectants; electric light is the most efficient policeman."

Brandeis was referring to the publicity surrounding the “Money Trust” scandal at the time – in which financial institutions were found to have suppressed competition by controlling credit.

But his words illuminate even more today. In Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend there were more camera phones held in the air than there were tiki torches at the Unite the Right rally. What has been proven since is that technology has now become the new accountability.

It is precisely because graphic video evidence emerged of the 2014 shooting of Tamir Rice and the fatal choking of Eric Garner in the same year that outrage erupted over the treatment of black people by law enforcement officials in the US and the Black Lives Matter movement came into being.

This was clear, indisputable visual evidence being beamed into people’s households without any edit points.

Video evidence

Similarly, there was clear and indisputable video evidence of the white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville last weekend. Their faces weren’t hidden under the traditional attire of hoods and robes. We could see them close up in high definition with an enhanced audio feed.

The rally was officially called to protest against the removal of Confederate icon Robert E Lee's statue from the city's Emancipation Park. But his name wasn't evoked once. Instead we heard ugly and vicious chants directed against Jewish people, black people and gay people.

On the Sunday morning after the two days of protesting by white nationalists, technology became busy – holding people accountable for their actions. A Twitter account, @YesYoureRacist was set up calling for social media users to identify participants in the rally by name. It is not against Twitter’s guidelines to identify by name a person appearing in a photograph on its site

So far – and more information is being collated daily – a protester, Cole White, has been identified. He was immediately sacked from his job for attending the rally, with his employers issuing a statement that "It is imperative to let you know that Cole White is no longer employed by us. We do not support the actions of those who attended the rally in Charlottesville."

Another protester identified by the Twitter account was Peter Cvjetanovic – it is his angry face photo that has been the most widely shared by the world's media. It has emerged that Cvjetanovic is studying (in a pitiful irony) history at the University of Nevada.

The university also immediately released a statement, saying “Racism and white supremacist movements have a corrosive effect on our society. These movements do not represent our values as a university.” However the university has yet to decide what disciplinary actions (if any) will be taken against Cvjetanovic.

‘Police officers’

The most potent demonstration of the "electric light" of technology in Charlottesville last weekend remains the video footage of the organiser of the rally, Jason Kessler, at his press conference on the day after the rally (Sunday).

The previous night, Kessler issued a statement saying “the blame for today’s violence lies primarily with the police officers . . . these officers stood idly by . . . the police purposefully created the catastrophe that led to the death of a counter protester”. This is a lie.

The death of the counter protester, Heather Heyer, during Saturday's rally was caused by a Nazi sympathiser, James Fields, who is shown on video accelerating his car into a group of pedestrians standing on the pavement. The US justice department has now classified Heather Heyer's death as "an act of domestic terrorism". The technological video evidence was used by local police to aid their arrest of Fields who is now charged with second-degree murder.

At his Sunday press conference, Kessler was met with shouts of “shame”. The video of the press conference shows people advancing on him, punching him and throwing him to the ground. Those police who a few hours earlier according to Kessler “stood idly by and were to blame for the violence and the death of a counter protester” now pulled him up off the ground, held off his assailants by force, saved him from being beaten to a pulp and escorted him to safety.

Those who attended the Unite the Right rally last Saturday in Charlottesville were a shudder looking for a spine to roll down. The takeaway is that technology will hold you accountable for your actions.