Snark attack: Ambush of local Twitter smart-mouth sparks doxing debate
Publishing personal information online has been weapon of choice in multiple Sacramento disputes
It was Tuesday night, September 27, and the man who gets his thrills as a social media crank had just finished grabbing a beer with friends in Midtown and was walking back to his car when it happened:
Someone beat up Snarkramento.
A social media creation with north of 1,500 Twitter followers, Snarkramento is the online veil loosely shrouding Matthew Braun, a 34-year-old state worker with a girlfriend, kids and otherwise regular existence. But Braun has an absolute knack for pissing people off with his mean tweets about the downtown arena, Mayor Kevin Johnson, local media and anything else that inspires his thumbs to dance.
And it’s his online behavior that Braun and his girlfriend believe fueled last month’s assault, which left him with a broken nose, stitched-up lip and the wrong kind of swelled head.
“Definitely,” Braun told SN&R of the idea that he was targeted for his online sarcasm.
The real-world attack of a social media creation sparked an immediate Twitter debate about the hazards of revealing someone’s personal information online and whether Braun was even a victim of the concept, known as doxing, which has become the preferred weapon of choice for online trolls, self-styled vigilantes and anyone who doesn’t like a particular message—and wants to terrorize the messenger.
“It’s a way of silencing someone,” said Bruce Schneier, a computer security and privacy specialist. “It’s a nasty tactic.”
Though not a new one, according to Schneier, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and an advisory board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Massachusetts-based Schneier says the practice of publishing someone’s private information is mostly used by people in power to harass and intimidate those with less of it, primarly minorities and women.
While Gamergate, in which a female video game developer was bombarded with rape and death threats in 2014, might be the most famous example of doxing, the Sacramento area has been no stranger to the concept.
And it has real consequences.
Doxing has featured in at least three ideological flashpoints this year.
For instance, after a June 26 Capitol rally that erupted in violence when demonstrators attempted to shut down a permitted gathering of white nationalists and neo-Nazi skinheads, hostilities between the two groups continued online with dueling doxing campaigns.
In May, local activist Maile Hampton was doxed after videos went viral of the 21-year-old participating in a flag burning event outside a heavily protested Donald Trump campaign stop in Burlingame.
And this past January, the entire Sacramento City Council experienced doxing when individuals with possible links to the international hacking group Anonymous published the supposed home addresses and phone numbers of the elected officials, after they refused to lift an anti-camping ban that targeted homeless residents.
Not all of these doxing incidents are created equally, of course.
The Trump supporters and others who took issue with the flag-burning video shared photos of Hampton at work and the address of Hampton’s mother; bombarded the biracial Muslim with racial and religious epithets; and tweeted things like, “We will find you!” and “someone needs to shoot her right between the eyes!”
Hampton, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, said they were unnerved by the venomous onslaught.
“But more than any type of fear I just kept thinking to myself, you’re all just proving me right,” Hampton wrote SN&R in a Facebook message. “They defend free speech so much, then attack me for using it.”
Braun didn’t experience anything that severe, but an alleged statement made by his attacker has fueled speculation about whether he was doxed—or casually doxed himself.
Five days prior to the attack, Braun got into a Twitter spat that’s almost too silly to recount, but here goes:
Responding to a tweet that has since been deleted, Braun, posting as Snarkramento, accused Sactown Royalty blogger Kevin Fippin of defending Mayor Kevin Johnson for punching a protester who surprised him with a coconut cream pie to the face.
Fippin replied that he was simply making fun of what had become a ridiculous media sensation, the two bickered, others jumped in (mostly on Snarkramento’s side), Fippin accused Braun of trolling him anonymously, Braun (half-jokingly) suggested they get beers, and Fippin replied by asking whether there were any spots Braun liked near the state agency building where he works.
In a separate tweet, Fippin referred to the Snarkramento persona as “Matt” after Braun tweeted that many already knew who he was.
Braun’s girlfriend accused Fippin of putting their family in danger and, after some direct messaging between the two, Fippin deleted the tweet identifying Braun’s workplace. (As of October 11, the tweet that referenced Braun’s first name remained up.)
The online feud took approximately two hours.
In the days that followed, Braun left other digital breadcrumbs to his real identity.
One day before his attack, Braun tweeted that he “yelled ’more pies’ at KJ as he walked into Old Soul at 40 Acres. He didn’t think it was funny.”
On the evening of the attack, approximately two hours before he was jumped, Braun posted a tweet that revealed he was at Fieldwork Brewing Co., along with a self-deprecating physical description of himself.
Braun told SN&R he and a few friends hung out on the Midtown taproom’s small patio, discussing K.J.’s response to the pie-thrower and his own recent Twitter duel with Fippin. Braun says the conversation was loud enough for others to hear. He also says a friend addressed him as “Snark” when saying goodbye.
Braun acknowledges his tweets, the conversation that night and his buddy’s “see ya Snark” adieu could have informed what happened later.
Braun says he left the brewery on Capitol Avenue at 18th Street around 10 p.m. and began walking back to his car, which was parked near X and 10th streets. When he got to about 14th and U streets, Braun says he attempted to pass a couple on the sidewalk in front of him by walking along the grassy island that bordered the sidewalk. The next thing he knew, Braun says, the man spun around and cold-cocked him in the head.
Braun wheeled to the ground and says he was hit at least one more time, possibly more, and that his attacker made two statements between blows.
“Hit me once, said, ’You looking at my girl?’ Hit me again, said, ’That one was for Kevin,’” Braun recalled. “That’s probably not exact, but it was something like that.”
Braun says he doesn’t really remember making it to his car and driving home, undressing and trying to clean up, or his girlfriend taking him to the emergency room, which occurred 1:59 a.m. September 28, according to a photo of the check-in document tweeted by his girlfriend.
“The next thing I remember, I was talking to the cops,” Braun said.
A police spokeswoman confirms officers responded that night to a reported assault of an adult male “near the 1800 block of Capitol Avenue as he was walking to his vehicle.”
No arrests have been made and Braun expressed frustration that the security cameras from a nearby Cal Fire station were not recording at the time, according to an email from the agency’s deputy chief of law enforcement.
“It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” Braun said.
Days after the attack, Braun’s face remained pulped with large welts and swelling, including a left eye sealed shut and a warped lip sporting eight stitches.
The mention of an unspecified “Kevin” prompted Braun’s girlfriend to tweet that her boyfriend was attacked by a man who mentioned Fippin specifically. While that claim was later retracted, it was too late. Fippin and at least one other Kings blogger say they’ve been the victims of ongoing retaliatory doxing, mostly by anonymous followers of Braun’s.
“I think it’s horrible he was assaulted,” Fippin told SN&R. “The idea that this could happen to anyone is disgusting. But I don’t think our Twitter interaction had anything to do with it.”
Asked whether he thinks his online argument with Fippin factored into his attack, Braun says he still thinks it’s possible.
“There’s no way to really know for sure,” he said. “The circumstantial evidence definitely points to it being somehow related.”
Fippin strenuously disavows the notion, reiterating that Braun himself has never made it all that hard to figure out Snarkramento’s secret identity. And he worries that getting linked, even tangentially, to the crime will lead to more online harassment, taking what had been a minor annoyance—being portrayed online by Braun as “a Kings bro who promotes violence”—and devolving it into a massive personal disturbance.
“This is all convoluted and stupid,” Fippin added. “I shouldn’t have reacted in any way. I should’ve blocked him.”
That’s what Fippin ended up doing, and Snarkramento responded in kind. As for the whole secret identity thing, Braun decided to drop it for this story. Whatever spurred his attack, Braun says he’s intent on not letting it change who he really is.
“I’d rather take ownership of it all at this point,” he said. “I think most people who follow my account understand it’s satirical.”