Recently, doxxing has been making the news. Whether it’s a streamer reading out the name of a viewer who donated to them or a billionaire’s private jet being tracked, doxxing is becoming more and more of a topic for discussion. But what exactly is doxxing, what can be done about it, and should you always get in trouble for doing it? Well, we’ve got answers. In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about doxxing.
So, What Is Doxxing, Really?
If you don’t spend a lot of time online, you may not even be all too familiar with the term. Doxxing generally refers to the publishing of private, personal information. So, for example, the location of a particular celebrities house getting posted online without their consent would be considered doxxing.
Doxxing is concerning because there are, unfortunately, many out there on the internet who will take leaked information and use it to harass people. Sometimes, doxxing doesn’t lead to anything, but sometimes, it will lead to harassment or worse. Many celebrities, for example, deal with stalkers who managed to locate them because of a dox.
But doxxing isn’t just about harassment. Doxxing can be deadly, too. On the internet, there’s a particularly nasty form of harassment called swatting. Basically, swatting works like this: Someone online finds out the address of someone they don’t like. Then, they call the local police in the area of their victim’s address and make a false report.
Usually, the report is about someone holding a hostage or getting ready to commit suicide. Something serious and sinister enough to warrant a call going out to the SWAT team. SWAT then will go to the house in question, thinking someone’s life is in danger, all the while the person living there has no idea what’s going on.
As you might expect, this is a recipe for disaster, and many people have been killed during swattings. But, doxxing doesn’t even have to be intentional or malicious. In fact, doxxing can be accidental much of the time. And this makes the entire practice quite hard to take a stance against, be it legislatively or in terms of what websites online allow.
Doxxing itself, in most cases, isn’t actually illegal. In fact, many instances of doxxing rely on publicly accessible information. Say a celebrity’s address is posted somewhere on some niche website online where almost nobody sees it. Then, say a bad actor decides to post that information on a big platform. This is, once again, considered doxxing, but it’s firmly within the bounds of the law.
Let’s take a look at some instances of doxxing.
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Would You Consider These Doxxing?
Imagine you’re a Twitch streamer, and you’re shouting out the people who’ve donated to you. But, say one of the donations contains a nasty, threatening message, so you decide to teach that viewer a lesson. By way of the donation, you’ve got access to their legal name, so you call them out, by name, during your stream. Is that doxxing?
Imagine you’re an online figure who’s been doxxed before, and now, where you live is out there for the public to see. Then, say someone online with a big platform of their own talks about these leaks and, once again, mentions where you live. The information was already out there, but they brought it up and made many new people learn about it. Is that doxxing?
Imagine you’re watching an online charity event, and you decide to donate. You love the cause, and you want that nice feeling you get when doing a good thing. So, you donate, and you excitedly wait to have your donation read out. However, when it’s read out, the organizers of the event read out your full, legal name. Nothing bad happens, but is that doxxing?
Imagine you’re chatting on a public Discord server, and as a joke, you change your profile picture to that of another chatter. But, unexpectedly, their profile picture contains their real face. And say someone reverse image searches your profile picture, discovers the real identity of the owner of the picture, and contacts their workplace. Is that doxxing?
Imagine you’re part of a live broadcast. Maybe your friend streams. And during the broadcast, while you’re chatting, you mention an identifying detail about someone on the broadcast. You didn’t intend for it, and it’s so general as to be impossible, on its own, to be used to identify them, but combined with other publicly available information, it can be used to identify them. Is that doxxing?
Not only is doxxing a gray area but what should be done about doxxing is also confusing, especially considering how nebulous doxxing itself is.
How Should We Stop Doxxing?
Another complicated question. As mentioned above, doxxing usually isn’t illegal, but some have suggested it become a criminal offense when there’s a targeted, intentional, and malicious instance of doxxing. Of course, though, proving all of that in a court of law would be quite difficult, and it wouldn’t stop many other forms of doxxing that do cause harm.
Some out there argue that all we need is a simple no-tolerance policy for this kind of behavior online. So, if there’s any instance of doxxing, the person responsible simply gets an automatic, no questions asked ban from whatever platform they’ve doxxed on. This sounds somewhat reasonable, considering doxxing is an internet thing and you can’t really dox people without the internet so by way of booting people off platforms if there is doxing you can cut out the doxxing at the source, so to speak.
Unfortunately, that brings with it problems. Huge creators that unintentionally doxxed someone, for example, getting banned off their primary platforms would cause a lot of issues for creators and fans, and ultimately, it would probably create a community of people that tried to get content creators caught guilty of doxxing in some way to get them banned.
Plus, unfortunately, not all websites will adopt the same terms of service. There are inevitably going to be weird, niche corners of the internet where the extremists gather that won’t enforce doxxing bans. And all it takes is one extremist with access to a dox to escalate everything into a much more serious, much more dangerous situation.
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All told, there probably isn’t a good one-size-fits-all response to doxxing. Practically speaking, you can only report people who dox to the platform they’re on and hope, if the situation is serious, they get banned, and if the situation is especially serious, you can report doxxers to the relevant authorities as well. Naturally, this solution is very case-by-case and some people will fall through the cracks and be able to dox with impunity.
However, until there’s a better solution, we’ll just have to deal with doxxing being something that happens on the internet.