By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on September 9, 2023)
I wonder what Franz Kafka would have to say about the social media phenom of “doxxing” (apart from “Whad’ya expect?!”). In case you missed it, here’s a chilling story from 2020:
By the standards of the pandemic, Thursday had been a normal day for Peter Weinberg. A 49-year-old finance marketing executive, he worked from his home in Bethesda, Maryland, right outside of the District of Columbia, staying busy with Zoom meetings and the new rituals of our socially isolated world.
Then, around 10 p.m., he received an irate message on LinkedIn from someone he didn’t know. He brushed it off, thinking it was probably just spam. Then he got another. And another. The third message was particular strange, as it mentioned something about the cops coming to find him. Perplexed, he watched as the messages continued to pile up. They were all so similar: angry, threatening, accusatory. His profile views suddenly soared into the thousands.
He began to panic. He decided to check Twitter. Although he’d had an account for more than a decade, Weinberg didn’t use the social platform very much. He mostly followed mainstream news outlets, politicians from across the ideological spectrum, entrepreneurs, and financial analysts. He had what you might call “low engagement.” But not anymore.
In his mentions, disaster was rapidly unfolding. People accused him of assaulting a child. Of being a racist. They shared a selfie he’d taken in sunglasses and his bike helmet and analyzed it alongside blurry images of another man in sunglasses and a bike helmet.
The other guy had been captured on video hitting children and ramming his bike into an adult after becoming enraged that they were posting fliers around the Capital Crescent Trail in support of George Floyd, the unarmed black man killed by white police officers in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
Weinberg hadn’t seen the viral story about the trail where he regularly biked. He didn’t know that, for several days, the video had circulated online as law enforcement crowdsourced help in locating the suspect. Now that he had seen it, he didn’t think he looked anything like this guy. And he didn’t understand why anyone thought he was him. […]
As he attempted to piece together what was happening, Weinberg called the number for a detective provided by the Maryland-National Capital Park Police. “We are seeking the public’s assistance in identifying the below individual in reference to an assault that took place this morning on the Capital Crescent trail. Please contact Det. Lopez with any information,” read a tweet sent June 2 from the department and shared more than 55,000 times.
But the Park Police had made an error. “Correction, the incident occurred yesterday morning, 6/1/2020,” they wrote in a follow up tweet. As with most such clarifications, it had only a fraction of the reach: a mere 2,000 shares.
It was based on that initial, false information that Weinberg had become a suspect for the internet mob. To his surprise, the app that he used to record his regular rides from Bethesda into Georgetown via the Capital Crescent Trail shared that information publicly, not just with his network of friends and followers. Someone had located a record of his ride on the path on June 2, matched it to the location of the assault from the video, matched his profile picture — white guy, aviator-style sunglasses, helmet obscuring much of his head — to the man in the video, and shared the hunch publicly.
It took off. Weinberg didn’t know what “doxing” meant, but it was happening to him: Someone posted his address. Detective Lopez didn’t answer his call, but soon someone with the police department contacted Weinberg to let him know that officers would be patrolling the area around his home because he might be in danger.
Detective Lopez reached him around 11 p.m. and they agreed to meet the next morning. At 11:47, Weinberg tweeted, “I recently learned I have been misidentified in connection with a deeply disturbing attack. Please know this was not me. I have been in touch with the authorities and will continue to help any way possible.”
His fiancée in New York, he spent the night alone, refreshing Twitter, watching helplessly as people tried to destroy his life. And Weinberg wasn’t even the only one: Another man, a former Maryland cop, was wrongly accused, too. The tweet accusing him was retweeted and liked more than half a million times.
At 7 a.m., Weinberg brought his bicycle and his helmet with him to the police station. Detective Lopez told him he was free to go and the department would issue a report excluding him as a suspect. […]
On Friday, police arrested Anthony Brennan III, a 60-year-old from Kensington, Maryland, and charged him with three counts of second-degree assault.
Weinberg told a reporter he was “dizzy” after what he went through.
“You may hear more from me in time as I reflect on this experience,” he tweeted. “For now I will say this. We must align in the fight for justice and equality — but not at the cost of due process and the right to privacy and safety.”
As for the woman who shared his home address: She deleted it and posted an apology, writing that in all of her eagerness to see justice served, she was swept up in the mob that so gleefully shared misinformation, depriving someone of their own right to justice. Her correction was shared by fewer than a dozen people.
“Fewer than a dozen people.” It’s worth noting that there are 12 people on a jury. Inversely, the numbers in a mob are legion. When I originally read and shared the piece, I Tweeted:
— Dennis Hartley (@denofcinema5) June 8, 2020
Set in New York City, Hitchcock’s 1956 thriller stars Henry Fonda as a musician who is (wait for it) wrongly accused of committing a crime. It begins with a mundane errand; bereft of funds, Fonda applies in-person for a $300 loan against his wife’s (Vera Miles) insurance policy to help pay for her dental work. Unfortunately, once the insurance office staff gets a gander at him, they misidentify him as a slippery felon who has twice robbed their premises. A Kafkaesque nightmare ensues for husband and wife, turning their lives upside down.
Presented in a stark, docudrama style, The Wrong Man is one of Hitchcock’s more noir-ish entries, utilizing subjective techniques for Fonda’s character. Consequently, you feel yourself being inexorably pulled into the protagonist’s ever-escalating sense of helplessness; a sobering reminder that at any given moment, we are all subject to the Fickle Finger of Fate. This is Hitchcock’s only film based on a true story (the script was adapted from Maxwell Anderson’s non-fiction book The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero , and co-written by the author and Angus MacPhail).
I won’t keep you in suspense…here are 9 more of my top Hitchcock picks (alphabetically).
The Lady Vanishes – This 1938 entry is my favorite Hitchcock film from his “British period”. A young Englishwoman (Margaret Lockwood) boards a train in the fictitious European country of Bandrika. She strikes up a friendly conversation with a kindly older woman seated next to her named Mrs. Froy, who invites her to tea in the dining car.
The young woman takes a nap, and when she awakes, Mrs. Froy has strangely disappeared. Oddly, the other people in her compartment deny ever having seen anyone matching Mrs. Froy’s description. The mystery is afoot, with only one fellow passenger (Michael Redgrave) volunteering to help the young woman sort it out.
The Master keeps you guessing until the end. Witty and suspenseful, with delightful performances all around. I could be wrong, but I suspect that this film was an influence for Wes Anderson’s 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel (particularly the production design).
Lifeboat – This taut 1944 war drama (adapted from a John Steinbeck story by screenwriter Jo Swerling) is essentially a chamber piece, centering on a small group of passengers who survive the sinking of their vessel by a German U-boat, which also goes down in the skirmish. A floundering survivor who is later pulled aboard the already overcrowded lifeboat turns out to be a member of the U-boat crew, which profoundly shifts the dynamics of the group.
A sharply observed microcosm of the human condition, with superb direction, great cinematography (by Glen MacWilliams), imaginative staging (especially considering the claustrophobic setting) and outstanding performances by the entire ensemble, which includes Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, Walter Slezak, John Hodiak, Mary Anderson, Canada Lee, and Hume Cronyn.
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog – Mrs. Bunting is a pleasant landlady, but we’re not so sure about her latest boarder. There’s a possibility he’s “The Avenger”, a brutal serial killer who is stalking London. Ivor Novello plays the gentleman in question, an intense, brooding fellow with a vaguely menacing demeanor. Is he or isn’t he? This suspense thriller has been remade umpteen times over the last eight decades, but for my money, none of them can touch this 1927 Hitchcock silent for atmosphere and mood. The screenplay was co-adapted from Marie Belloc Lowndes’ eponymous novel by Eliot Stannard and Hitchcock.Novello did a reprise as the mysterious lodger in Maurice Elvey’s 1932 version.
Marnie –I know it’s de rigueur to tout Vertigo as Alfred Hitchcock’s best “psychological thriller” (it just never floated my lifeboat) but my vote goes to this 1964 entry, which I view as a slightly ahead-of-it’s-time precursor to dark, psycho-sexual character studies along the lines of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and Robert Altman’s That Cold Day in the Park.
Tippi Hedren stars as an oddly insular young woman who appears to suffer from kleptomania. Sean Connery is a well-to-do widower who hires Marnie to work for his company, despite his prior knowledge (by pure chance) of her tendency to steal from her employers.
Okay, he’s not blind to the fact that she’s a knockout, but he’s also objectively fascinated by her as a kind of clinical study. His own behaviors slip as he tries to play Marnie’s employer, friend, lover, and armchair psychoanalyst all at once. One of Hitchcock’s most unusual entries, bolstered by Jay Presson Allen’s intelligent screenplay.
North by Northwest – I’m hard-pressed to find a more perfect blend of suspense, intrigue, romance, action, comedy and visual mastery than Hitchcock’s 1959 masterpiece. Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason and Martin Landau head a great cast in this outstanding “wrong man” thriller. Nearly every set piece in the film has become iconic.
Although I never tire of the crop-dusting sequence or the (literally) cliff-hanging Mt. Rushmore chase, my favorite is the dining car scene. Armed solely with Ernest Lehman’s clever repartee and their acting chemistry, Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint engage in the most erotic sex scene ever filmed wherein participants remain fully clothed (and keep hands where we can see them!). Bernard Hermann’s score is one of his finest.
Notorious – It’s a tough call to name my “favorite” Hitchcock movie (it’s like being forced to pick your favorite child). I can only narrow it down to three: North by Northwest, The Lady Vanishes, and this superb 1946 espionage thriller (no, I don’t have a man-crush on Cary Grant…not that there would be anything wrong with that). Grant does make for a suave American agent, and Claude Rains a villain you love to hate, but it’s Ingrid Bergman who holds my interest in this story of love, betrayal and international intrigue, set in exotic Rio. Bergman plays her character with a worldly cynicism and sexy vulnerability that to this day, few actors would be able to sell so well. Ben Hecht adapted the script from a John Tainter Foote story, with additional dialog contributed by Hitchcock and Cliffor Odets (both uncredited).
Psycho – Bad, bad Norman. Such a disappointment to his mother. “MOTHERRRR!!!” Poor, poor Janet Leigh. No sooner had she recovered from her bad motel experience in Touch of Evil than she found herself checking in to the Bates and having a late dinner in a dimly lit office, surrounded by Norman’s unsettling taxidermy collection. And this is only the warm up to what Alfred Hitchcock has in store for her later that evening (anyone for a shower?).
This brilliant thriller has spawned so many imitations, I’ve lost count. While tame by today’s standards, several key scenes still have the power to shock. Twitchy Tony Perkins sets the bar for future movie psycho killers. Joseph Stefano adapted the spare screenplay from Robert Bloch’s novel. Also in the cast: Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsalm, and Simon Oakland.
Strangers on a Train – There’s something that Wim Wenders’ The American Friend, Rene Clement’s Purple Noon (and Anthony Minghella’s 1999 remake, The Talented Mr. Ripley) all share in common with this 1951 Hitchcock entry (aside from being memorable thrillers). They are all based on novels by the late Patricia Highsmith. If I had to choose the best of the aforementioned quartet, it would be Strangers on a Train.
Robert Walker gives his finest performance as tortured, creepy stalker Bruno Antony, who “just happens” to bump into his sports idol, ex-tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) on a commuter train. For a “stranger”, Bruno has a lot of knowledge regarding Guy’s spiraling career; and most significantly, his acrimonious marriage.
As for Bruno, well, he kind of hates his father. A lot. The silver-tongued sociopath is soon regaling Guy with a hypothetical scenario demonstrating how simple it would be for two “strangers” with nearly identical “problems” to make those problems vanish. The perfect crime! Of course, the louder you yell at your screen for Guy to get as far away from Bruno as possible, the more Bruno pulls him in. It’s full of great twists and turns, with one of Hitchcock’s most heart-pounding finales. The screenplay was adapted by Raymond Chandler, Czenzi Ormonde, and Whitfield Cook.
The 39 Steps – Many of the tropes that would come to be labeled “Hitchcockian” are fomenting in this 1935 entry: an icy blonde love interest, a meticulously constructed, edge-of-your-seat finale, and most notably, the “wrong man” scenario. Robert Donat stars as a Canadian tourist in London who is approached by a jittery woman after a music hall show. She begs refuge in his flat for the night, but won’t tell him why. Intrigued, he offers her his hospitality.
He awakens the next morning, just in time to watch her collapse on the floor, with a knife in her back and a map in her hand. Before he knows it, he’s on the run from the police and embroiled with shady assassins, foreign spies and people who are not who they seem to be. Fate and circumstance throw him in with a reluctant female “accomplice” (Madeleine Carroll).
Suspenseful, funny, and rapid-paced. Charles Bennett and Ian Hay adapted the screenplay from the novel by John Buchan.