The Psychology Query - Doxing, Cyberbullying and Online Harrassment

Updated on March 25, 2018
Natalie Frank profile image

Natalie Frank, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, publishes on topics about child health, behavioral science, current events and other fields.

This article focuses on new forms of cyberbullying which can create incredible problems such as destroying your reputation, peace of mind and general well-being. This is a timely topic since we are seeing more and more of these tactics in the news, although no longer just in relation to politicians or extreme activists. The truth is that these types of attacks are becoming increasingly frequent, and individuals are using them for revenge, manipulation, coercion and humiliation.

The discussion centers around a practice called doxing which involves someone “outing” an individual who wants to remain anonymous for some reason. While you may feel that the individuals in the examples provided below deserved what they got, remember that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. In other words, once this technology becomes common place, it will be difficult to convince people not to use it when emotions are running high. And once you have ruined someone’s reputation you cannot simply restore it.

It may seem that practices like these are warranted in cases involving types of extreme abuse, it’s a slippery slope from there to individuals deciding that all kinds of offenses or perceived offenses are justification for doxing someone. But remember, when we take others privacy and anonymity too lightly, or decide we are allowed to disregard their right to privacy, it is likely that at some point someone will decide that they can just as cavalierly disregard our rights.

Like any internet behavior, when you decide that someone’s actions, identity, contact information and other personal facts about their life deserves to be made public no matter the consequences; there are a few good practices to put in place. The first is just to wait until your emotions stabilize and aren’t so volatile. Once you are rational, think through the action very carefully. Consult with someone whose opinion you respect, explain the situation, what you intend to do about it and see what type of feedback you receive. Write down the reasons you feel the person deserves to be doxed, starting with their actions. Next list how doxing will improve the situation. Finally, list all the consequences of doxing the person that you can come up with.

While it may be the case that a person’s actions are less than admirable or even are reprehensible will doxing really amount to anything more than revenge? If it is illegal, let the police handle it. If it is unethical or immoral, there are likely public efforts aimed at the behavior in general that do not require outing the person, such as protests and petitions. If someone is getting hurt, outing the person hurting them may make matters worse. There are ways to report abuse based on good faith and agencies that take such reports and act based on the information provided.

While different people have different opinions about this type of behavior, doxing is really just a form of cyberbullying that is used to humiliate or manipulate others, and there are few if any beneficial outcomes to the practice. Furthermore, like other types of bullying, those who engage in this type of behavior are usually doing so to feel powerful and in control of a situation, not to accomplish anything constructive. However, make no mistake about it - Doxing can ruin people’s lives, and while usually not illegal, it is never the best way to handle a situation.

Reader Question

I’ve just heard about a particular type of bullying or maybe it’s harassment called doxing.I know what it’s like to be bullied and the idea of some new type of cyberbullying if that’s what it is, scares me. Have you ever heard of doxing and could you give some examples of it?

Answer

This is definitely a timely question. Doxing is definitely a type of cyberbullying and a particularly nasty one at that. The term stands for “dropping documents” and it usually refers to someone collecting someone else’s private information such as their address, phone number or social security number and then broadcasting it to the public with permission. It has been described as a mob tactic of various online groups whose intent is to scare victims just to terrorize them usually as a means of revenge for a real or imagined insult or to cause attention to be focused on someone who operates anonymously.

Sometimes doxing is just done for fun though the consequences can be so serious that it is hard to imagine what kind of fun the perpetrators think is worth the harm that is caused. The really frightening part though is that once all your information is out there it’s almost impossible to get it all taken down so it’s available to anyone who is reckless, who doesn’t have a well developed sense of morals and ethics or who has malicious intentions who can use the information against you.

There have been numerous high profile cases in the news in recent years. Some of the more famous ones are discussed below.

Cecil the Lion: In July of 2015, the news agencies around the globe reported that a lion named Cecil was lured from a protected national park in Zimbabwe where lions were protected, and killed in an illegal hunt. A well reputed British newspaper, then disclosed the identity of the hunter Shortly after he was identified he became the victim of internet hate in the form of public posts calling him a “scumbag,” “a disgrace to humankind” and a “detriment to our species as a whole.” His address, website and work phone number were leaked and posted on sites globally and he was forced to take his work website and social media pages offline, as a result. His life was threatened and his office was closed due to protests outside. His vacation home was vandalized with the words “lion killer” spray painted on the doors.

Ashley Madison: Ashley Madison is an online dating site which specializes in extramarital romance and sex. Those who participate in this site can browse through the profiles of members who are looking to have an affair. A group of hackers ordered the owners to permanently take the site off-line, quoting questionable morals as the reason. When the owners of the site did not comply, the group released over ten gigabytes of member data, including almost 30 million email addresses, about half of which were military and government addresses. Other information was also disclosed to the public, including names, addresses, phone numbers, interests and sexual preferences. Victims suffered from public embarrassment, shame, loss of important relationships, separation and divorce leading to several suicides and a number of cases of extortion.

Reddit: An online news site revealed the identity of a user who posted pictures of girls below the age of 18 years old in bikinis, and for making inappropriate comments relating to racism, porn, incest and other controversial topics. When his identity was revealed, Brutsch was fired from his job and he subsequently began accepting donations through PayPal to pay his bills. This practice was also revealed and the public’s reaction again was aggressively negative. This case called into question the acceptability of users of a website being allowed to remain anonymous.

Although many might say that these individuals and individuals like them only got what they deserved, others argue that two wrongs do not make a right. Additionally, individuals who have examined the practice of doxing in detail have pointed out that if doxing become considered an acceptable tactic, then it is not only those who perpetrate crimes or engage in unethical behavior that could be the targets of such strategies. With the ability to reach large numbers of readers instantly, doxing can effectively ruin anyone’s reputation, career, and personal life, and it could be employed by anyone who disagrees with anything another person does. Should doxing be deemed acceptable, then this fact could be used to justify its practice no matter how much harm it does.

The killing of a Zimbabwean lion by an American dentist who was publicly shamed is an example of doxing
The killing of a Zimbabwean lion by an American dentist who was publicly shamed is an example of doxing

Review: Cyber bullying - Introducing Issues with Opposing Viewpoints by Lauri S. Scherer

Product Information:

  • Reading Level: Grades 7 - 10
  • Greenhaven Press; Annotated edition (February 11, 2015)
  • 144 pages
  • Price: From $24 (on Amazon)

A friend of mine was distraught one night and after asking her what the problem was, I learned her child was being cyberbullied. The child or children doing it somehow were managing to remain anonymous and the teacher and principal said there was nothing they could do unless they could identify the offending party or parties. My friend had just moved to a new area and her child had just started high school at a new school where she didn’t know any of the kids. She had stopped socializing with any of the other students having no way of knowing if possibly one of them was to blame, and wouldn’t go to any school social events for the school or parties thrown by any of the other children.

After a great deal of time advocating for her child, and after the school received several other complaints from parents whose children were also the victims of cyberbullying, the principal hired someone to try to trace the IP addresses of the offenders in order to identify them. Although the three guilty children were in fact identified, my friend's child and the other victims had difficulties for the remainder of the school year and required therapy to help them put the incident behind them.

Over the summer, my friend asked if I knew of any books that she could use to address the topic with her child before the new school year began. I started looking for books and came upon Cyber bullying (Introducing Issues with Opposing Viewpoints) by Lauri S. Scherer. I was familiar with some of the other titles in this series and had always liked that these books presented both sides of a topic.

I admit that I had a hard time considering how many controversial viewpoints could possibly exist in regards to cyberbullying but was surprised by the books content. Some of the disputes cited include how widespread cyberbullying actually is, whether concerns have been overstated, whether cyberbullying is associated with teen suicide, what the response to cyberbullying should be, whether or not it should be treated as a crime, and whether or not cyberbullying can be prevented and punished without threatening free speech.

The material in the book makes the problem seem serious, which validated the children’s experiences, but in such a way that didn't overwhelm them. The content is also presented at a level that was great for my friends daughter so she could read it on her own and discuss it with her friends.

The book has a summary of some of the key facts related to cyberbullying, a list of useful organizations to contact about the problem and a bibliography of references for further reading which my friend found helpful for obtaining additional information about her child’s problem. I think this book is great for children, as well as parents and teachers who want to find material to address this serious topic.

Buy Here

Doxing Poll

Have you or someone you know ever been the victim of or engaged in doxing? (If yes, please describe in the comments. You can do so anonymously, if you prefer. Thank you for participating).

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Natalie Frank

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • Natalie Frank profile image
        Author

        Natalie Frank 5 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

        All good points. You are right. We are in a new era with the ability to do all types of things digitally. I am so sorry that you went through what you did. Law enforcement needs to do a much better job in terms of taking stalking and swatting crimes seriously. The mental health field also needs to do a better job of standing up for victims who are clearly not in need of being institutionalized yet get swatted into an hospital and are stuck there for 48 to 72 hours with no mechanism for releasing them. There needs to be some way of holding even mental health professionals accountable and a penalty for someone who wrongly accused someone of being suicidal/homicidal or other types of problems involved in swatting. Once records build up and people in the future have access to them it influences how they view a person. Unfortunately today with everything that is available online people can learn things about others that can be used to do a lot of damage and build up an entire reputation and image that has nothing to do with the real person. Thanks for stopping by and for commenting. As you can see from my own rant, I have a lot of emotions and thoughts related to this topic.

      • DS Dollman profile image

        Darla Sue Dollman 5 weeks ago from Greeley, Colorado

        I see both sides with doxing. On the one hand, doxing, as in my situation, can be used to destroy a person's reputation, career, everythng important to a person simply because someone wants to harm someone else. On the other hand, I also understand the temptation to seek revenge when every aspect of your life is attacked and you cannot get help from anyone, when there's no way to stop the person who is harming you except by exposing them. What this tells me is that we are now dealing with a new generation, a clever generation using their intelligence to invent crimes that law enforcement is not prepared to handle. Here's a surprise for you--I was stalked in college for years, but couldn't do anything to protect myself because stalking laws were not passed until three years after the man started stalking me. Stalking laws were not created until 1996. Now we have cyberbullying, mobbing, swatting, cyberstalking--these crimes are not only new to society, they are new to law enforcement and it's time for our entire legal system to acknowledge that they are not prepared to handle these new crimes, that they don't know how to gather evidence, conduct interviews, or prosecute these crimes, and they need to adjust to the times, to this new generation of criminal activity and find a way to identify and prosecute the criminals so they can help and protect the victims.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 5 weeks ago from USA

        Cecil was intentionally lured out of his protective conservation habitat then injured with a bow and after 40 miserable hours finally killed with a gun. Luring wasn’t legal in the country, although he got off extremely lightly. It’s very shameful he wasn’t punished. I bet the cowardly dentist thinks twice before he does this again. When courts and government adjudicators don’t do the right thing, unfortunately that’s when vigilante justice often steps in. I’m not saying it’s always right, but in this case I stand with Cecil. People need to check their own ethical behavior. Trophy hunting is no sport. Maybe after doxing he has more empathy and some semblance of remorse.

      • Natalie Frank profile image
        Author

        Natalie Frank 6 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

        That's true, Darla. Though at least some people will still have no problem doxing without the anonymity. Plus, given that they just have to out the person to begin with and after that anyone can take the info and run with it. Thanks for the comment and for stopping by.

      • DS Dollman profile image

        Darla Sue Dollman 6 weeks ago from Greeley, Colorado

        I think part of the problem is that it's so easy to post anything online using a fake identity. If more companies--like Facebook--worked on ways to prevent the fake photo/fake name pages then people may think twice before attacking others because they know they would be held accountable.

      • Natalie Frank profile image
        Author

        Natalie Frank 6 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

        Darla - what a terrible situation. You loaned money you couldn't afford to lose to someone who didn't pay it back. Good deed number one. Then when someone wanted the persons name you refused to give it out on a moral and ethical basis. Good deed number two. To think that you got doxed because you dared not to give them info they wanted so they could do something to ruin the person when you were the victim to begin with is truly terrifying. I don't even know where to begin. This is one of the reasons doxong is so dangerous. When we become convinced that our beliefs, convictions, behaviors are absolutely correct and therefore we have the right to do whatever we want to anyone who doesnt act the way we want them to, people get hurt. When we declare ourselves in the right and not only set ourself up as judge, jury and executioner in terms of those who do things we have dubbed wrong but also anyone who stands in the way of our ability to do so, it's a quick trip to the loss of our right to privacy and the destruction of everything that holds our social fabric together. Thanks for sharing -.personal experiences are the best way for us to look at all sides of a situation.

      • Natalie Frank profile image
        Author

        Natalie Frank 6 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

        Flourish- I agree with you on an ethical basis. Trophy hunting quite honestly disgusts me. Actually any type of hunting other than when it's done to feed people who would otherwise not have enough disgusts me. However, at the same time when someone engages in a behavior that is legal where it is carried out while we definitely have the right to speak out against it, protest it, lobby for sanctions against the practice in question or any other legal options in our country I don't think we have the right to leak all of the persons private information over the internet. Try to imagine someone does something that is perfectly legal in the place they do it. The next thing they know people are throwing rocks through their windows- their address was leaked, their child is terrorized at school, the address of the school was leaked, embarrassing photos taken many years before when they were an adolescent are posted online, all of banking and other financial information is leaked their identity stolen and they have decades of fighting to reestablish their dream identity though they may never be able to reestablish their credit, their older child can't go to college since they now can't get a loan, people send things to their boss as wrll as their spouses boss when both work addresses are leaked and both lose their jobs and now they lose their home, and if all that isn't enough they are also receiving death threats but when they try to to report it to the police it turns out the local police are also against what they've done and tell them they're getting what they deserve. This isn't an exaggeration- it's happened many times and even led to a number of suicides. And these are instances when the single action that sparked this whole thing was on fact legal where it wad carried out. We are horrified by the killing of these amazing creatures. Others argue it actually helps in conservation efforts. What if some of us decide that someone who is a member of the NRA deserves to be doxxed and a similar situation as described above ensues? Or who supports a certain politician or political party? Or who donates to a gay rights association? Or to a religious group whose practices they don't believe in? We all have our own views but do we have the right to engage in practices that can ruin or even end a life because of something the person did we don't agree with, when their action was legal? Where do we draw the line? Thanks for the comment and for your opinion. Differences in opinion are what starts conversations about important issues such as this one.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 6 weeks ago from USA

        I’m very conflicted about this. I think cyberbullying and bullying are awful but I’m not sorry that dentist who horribly killed Cecil got a little justice. I recall he had zero remorse. People take matters into their own hands when laws fail them. That’s why we need better regulations. Cecil needed someone to advocate for him and penalize this man but it didn’t happen. Please don’t hate me for this opinion.

      • Rhyme Vine Poetry profile image

        Tamara Yancosky Moore 6 weeks ago from Uninhabited Regions

        Thank you, Natalie, for your kind reply.

      • Natalie Frank profile image
        Author

        Natalie Frank 6 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

        Tamara - I am so sorry you went through that. You are correct - cyberbullying is everywhere and it seems that especially for those who grew up never knowing what it was to be without computers and the internet that gaining access to information is second nature. This means that should they have the disposition to want to hurt others for whatever reason or have entitled notions that whatever they do is justified they will have everything they need to do harm. Thank you for stopping by and for commenting. Your remarks will undoubtedly enable others to better understand this terrible problem.

      • Rhyme Vine Poetry profile image

        Tamara Yancosky Moore 6 weeks ago from Uninhabited Regions

        Very terrible reality is cyber bullying, especially when taken to such an extreme as what you have described. I appreciated your post, and the information that I derived from it.

        I have most definitely been the victim of online bullying, but thank The Good Lord, not to the extreme that you have mentioned. What I experienced was simply cowardly attempts at trying to intimidate me, and even trying to steal my poetry. This “professional “ individual changed my password on me, as an attempt to not allow me onto my poetry page, which was on a “professional” site.

        Fortunately, as the Red Flags were raised as to this individual’s character, I began deleting each and everyone of my poems, as fast as I could, while he was, at the same time, changing my password. This individual was a Webmaster of this unethical site.

        I think he was one of those men with very low self-esteem because his mannerisms totally changed with me after I gave my opinion about something that totally disagreed with his opinion. I did this in a kindly manner, but still it was opposite his opinion. This is when the bullying started.

        Of course, bullies being the sorry cowards that they are, do not usually work alone. He had his “followers” (minions), harassing me, too. The “Followers” of the main bullies are just as cowardly, and cannot be leaders with a thinking mind of their own because they are too busy trying to get approval from their Bully-Owner. They take sides without knowing the entirety of the other side.

        When a person puts themselves out there, online, soon or later, bullies seem to latch on, and feed off that person- whether it be due to jealousy, boredom, Narcissism, Superiority-Complex, Cowardice, Trying to Impress Others, gain of some kind, needing attention, needing to push others around due to low self-esteem, and/or a plainly vile and mean natured individual (hateful).

        Hugs!

      • DS Dollman profile image

        Darla Sue Dollman 6 weeks ago from Greeley, Colorado

        It is different. In the 50s, bullying occurred in schools, playgrounds, in the workplace. Now, if something is posted online it goes worldwide. HUGE difference. I loaned money to a coworker once. I told her I didn't have it and begger her to stop asking me, but she swore she was about to be evicted with her five children. She told me she would repay me in two days. Two days passed and she stopped responding to my emails. After awhile, she contacted me again, but pretended nothing happened--we used to chat every day online. I was devestated--it was a large amount of money. I had another friend who I'd known online for many years. She asked why I seemed down and I told her what happened. She demanded to know who the coworker was and I refused to "out" her. The second coworker was so angry that I wouldn't reveal the woman's identity that she contacted a third coworker who had established a bully website. This coworker called me a liar, her followers (psychologists call them Flying Monkeys) posted disgusted comments about me and it was all linked to my photo and bio. I am a writer. For four years, every time an employer, family member, friend, my grandchildren, anyone tried to Google my name it immediately went to the bully page. The first woman who borrowed the money? I never revealed her name. The second woman who was angry that I refused to allow her to "out" the woman who took the money? She finally told me she was lying about her identity and using a fake name and photo the entire time we "knew" each other. For four years I endured this harassment and unlike the 1950s, it affected my ability to work, my reputation, relationships with family and friends--everyone knew my personal business and knew that strangers had posted disgusting lies about me online. They were asking me what I did, why this was happening. Why was it happening? Because I trusted a woman who said she was desperate and thought I was doing a random act of kindness by helping her save her home. The difference between then and now is night and day.

      • Natalie Frank profile image
        Author

        Natalie Frank 6 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

        Yes, Bill, as bad as it always has been the ability to transmit things quickly to huge numbers of people and remain anonymous makes things even worse. Thanks for stopping by and for the comment.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 6 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        Kids, teens, adults, it goes on unabated....not much different from the bullying back in the 50's and 60's except social media now gives a bit of anonymous protection for the cowards doing the bullyiing.

      working