From Under the Bridge: Doxing, Society’s Chemotherapy
Opinions are something everyone has, and more people are making them known publicly because of social media platforms where people can rant about frustrations ranging from work problems to political issues. In today’s polarized political environment, your opinion can have you dubbed prescient, a political pundit or an ideological idiot.
However, activists would be wise before expressing their opinions, especially if they have ever posted any personal or identifying information on the Internet. This is because of a practice known as doxing, which is, as David M. Douglas posits, “ the intentional public release onto the Internet of personal information about an individual by a third party, often with the intent to humiliate, threaten, intimidate, or punish the identified individual.”
Doxing made recent news when photos from the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, NC were circulated to identify the “White Supremacists” captured in the photos. A Twitter account known as @YesYoureRacist was the source for a large portion of the identifications, at least one of which resulted in one marcher being ousted from his job, and another being publicly disowned by his family.
In these cases, it can feel vindicating to see a hate-mongers get a taste of the vitriol that they so cavalierly spew, but doxing can sting the “good guys” as harshly as it can the “bad guys”, as it did for a person misidentified in one of the photos. Moreover, in the case of prominent Web developer and blogger Kathy Sierra, doxing brought her life and a promising career to a screeching halt. After receiving threatening blog posts and emails, after being targeted with malicious memes and sordid photoshopped images of her family members, after being victimized for kicks (“for the Lulz”, as it’s referred to in internet slang) by trolls and then victim-blamed by members of the tech community of which she was a part, she decided to quit. She did the only thing she could do: remove herself from the crosshairs, as much as she could, by giving in to what the hate-spewing, rape-threatening, fear-mongering, sociopaths wanted. Kathy Sierra, whose only “crimes” were being a successful woman in tech and publicly supporting bloggers that moderate their comments, was denounced and discarded.
So how do we treat a practice that can be useful for pruning away problematic behaviors or that can be used to poison a person’s life forever? Maybe Kathy Sierra’s post-doxing reflections can offer insight:
“No idea. But I do think we need more options for online spaces, and I hope one of those spaces allows the kind of public conversations and learning we had on Twitter but where women — or anyone — does not feel an undercurrent of fear watching her follower count increase; where there’s no such thing as The Koolaid Point. And I also know the worst possible approach would be more aggressive banning, or restricting speech (especially not that), or restricting anonymity.”