The Psychology Query - Doxing, Cyberbullying and Online Harrassment
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.
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?
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.
Review: Cyber bullying - Introducing Issues with Opposing Viewpoints by Lauri S. Scherer
- 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.
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).
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Natalie Frank