Much Ado About Doxing: Things to Consider Before Reposting Someone’s Personal Information
In the early 2010s, my social media platform of choice was Tumblr. In most ways, it’s not too different from other social bookmarking sites like Pinterest (or Delicious if you go way back): a lot of pretty art, funny pictures, and short text posts by its users. However, Tumblr has become notorious for its huge amount of social justice posts — from screenshots from other social media of great comebacks to offensive posts to lengthy essays from popular activists such as Franchesca Ramsey.
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, was murdered by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. This marked the beginning of what is now known as the Ferguson Unrest, a landmark event in the BlackLivesMatter movement.
Social media was instantly consumed with photos, think pieces, first hand accounts, videos, anything and everything to express the grief, fear, anger, resistance, and solidarity caused by the murder. Unfortunately, as we see often with acts of violence against people of color, many racists came out of the woodwork to express their views.
In the fall of 2014, I, along with other social media users, began to see screenshots of offensive posts about Ferguson taken from other social media, but instead of comebacks accompanying them, it was the names, occupations, locations, workplaces, phone numbers, home addresses, you name it, of the people who made these posts. What was becoming popular within social justice social media was doxing.
For people who never knowingly seen doxing before, such as myself, this was a breath of fresh air. Finally racists were being held accountable for their actions in ways that we typically do not have the pleasure of seeing. We were seeing, quite literally, racistsgettingfired (more on this later).
While seeing bigots getting doxed by online activists may be satisfying to see, it has a dark history of being a tool of self-proclaimed “anti-social-justice-warriors” (or anti-SJWs) and antifeminists.
So, is it okay for feminists who dox to critique antifeminists who also dox for reasons that basically boil down to “it’s okay when I do it”?
Doxing can enable those being targeted by, or witness to, discriminatory words and actions to create their own justice on their own terms and ensure that bigots, who may otherwise never face consequences for their behavior, be held accountable and face some sort of punitive action for their behavior. But by doxing people online, feminists are using a tool of antifeminism which raises the questions: Is doxing for feminism contradictory? Is doxing for feminism hypocritical? Does the use of doxing undermine online feminist activism?
Doxing is just one example of a tactic within feminist activism that exists in a morally grey area. I, myself, am still not sure where I stand on doxing or if it is even possible to see it as a completely wrong or completely right act. So instead of providing my opinion, what I hope to provide is information and different perspectives that will help you to develop your own opinion on doxing, as I continue to develop mine.
So let’s start with the basics:
What is doxing?
Doxing (sometimes spelled as doxxing) is the public sharing of someone’s sensitive personal information on social media as a way to publicly shame, frighten, or call for others to punish someone for their behavior online or in real life.
Although doxing initially began in the late 1990s with hackers, in the early 2000s it began appearing on 4chan’s /b/ board , which I cannot link you to in good conscience. That then evolved into the vigilante “hacktivist” group Anonymous, who are known for wearing Guy Fawkes masks from the graphic novel and movie V for Vendetta. From there, doxing spread like wildfire, everyone has participated in it from your everyday Tumblr users to media-personality-turned-presidential-candidate Donald Trump.
The term itself is said to have originated from the abbreviation “doc” for document files, but it’s unconfirmed.
How does doxing happen?
Well, hypothetically, it really only takes 7 steps:
Let’s say 1) Person A posts something on social media saying something offensive and discriminatory about a marginalized group of people.
2) Person B sees this and 3) goes to Person A’s profile to see that Person A has included their workplace and the town they live in in their bio.
4) Person B then googles their workplace with the town name to find the phone number of Person A’s workplace.
5) Person B then reposts Person A’s initial post, a screenshot of their bio that includes their workplace and town, AND the phone number of their workplace.
Now, People X, Y, and Z, who are friends with Person B, can 6) call Person A’s workplace and report Person A’s behavior to their boss until 7) they are fired, or face some other form of tangible punishment as a direct result of their behavior. They may even publicly apologize to the sea of people who were affected by their bigoted behavior.
Whew. Seems like a lot of steps right? But in this day and age, this could take maybe 15 minutes, especially if Person B has used a computer for pretty much their entire life, like most of us millennials. So in the 20-odd years doxing has existed, it went from being a tactic used only by professional hackers to being a tool accessible to the everyday internet user.
So, now that we’ve got a working understanding of doxing, let’s get to analyzing:
Why do antifeminists dox?
Just looking at doxing’s rise in popularity on websites like 4chan, it can be easily concluded that there must be something fishy about the practice if it has become a tool of the proudly problematic.
One of the most high-profile cases of doxing came from a 2014 instance of male gamers releasing the personal information of sci-fi actress, Felicia Day. This breach of privacy came as a part of the pseudo-movement GamerGate, which sought to resist the respectful inclusion or even representation of basically anyone who is not a straight white male in the gaming community and in video games themselves.
Anita Sarkeesian, of YouTube fame for her channel FeministFrequency, who makes videos critiquing pop culture for sexism, was also doxxed by GamerGate participants in 2014 as revenge for her growing series “Tropes vs Women in Video Games”.
So what is the goal of people like the men involved in GamerGate when they dox? Maybe it’s simply to publicly harass and terrorize their opponents with the threat of physical harm, and in the process causing them actual psychological trauma. And that would probably be enough, certainly other dissenters who would side with the doxee would think twice before speaking out against the doxers after seeing what can happen.
The root of the problem with using doxing to force silence on those who would oppose you is the clear abuse of power. I speculate this is why doxing is so popular amongst groups of men who identify as a looked down upon part of society like gamers, nerds, and “men’s rights activists”. While receiving messages that men, especially white straight men, should be powerful and dominant from society, they look for scapegoats that they can take out their feelings of inadequacy on by using their computer knowledge, something that would mark them as a gamer or a nerd, to have complete control over a person’s safety and compliance for a moment in time.
Why do feminists dox?
I posit it is this same desire to have power over a group of people that one feels powerless to that attracts feminists to dox antifeminists. But is that so wrong? After all, many people who are aligned with feminism are among the most marginalized in society and rarely get to see justice served to those who seek to oppress them.
But consider who this person might be who posts bigoted things online, Person A from earlier. If a large group of “social justice warriors” get this person fired for a tweet/status/blog post/ etc… will they really have a change of heart? Or will they simply regret not changing their account to private before posting whatever it was? They might even have a newfound sense of justification in their hate.
So what really gets done? Some feminists succumb to the mob mentality of doxing in a very well-intentioned effort to create justice where there is none, but perhaps make no impact other than fueling the fire of those who hate them and getting a fleeting taste of power.
Even worse, some people may take advantage of the very apparent bloodlust involved in doxing to frame others to gain personal revenge. And, even once the truth is out, the damage is irreparable and the incriminating content can never be erased from the internet.
Which leads one to wonder…
Are there benefits of doxing?
Doxing, when framed right, definitely has a vibe of some good ol’ home-grown vigilante activism.
And that is definitely how it feels when you are seeing it happen. As one of the mods of the famous (or maybe infamous) Tumblr, racistsgettingfired, puts it:
“By holding individuals accountable to their actions in public, we force change and remove dangerous individuals from positions of power from which they could do harm. The nature of this blog makes it so that as moderators we exist solely in anonymity, such that it is impossible for us to be motivated by personal satisfaction. This is about how People of Color, together, are indeed powerful.”
Hell yeah, right? Accountability, change, power, these are all inspiring and invigorating buzzwords. I fully agree that people who express offensive, fetishizing, and just f*cked up sentiments go largely unpunished and if it’s possible to prevent them from perpetuating their bigotry, it should be done. And if you have no tools that you can use to ensure someone gets punished for bigoted behavior besides your computer, why wouldn’t you use it? A frequently cited quote by feminist theorist Audre Lorde states: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” But what if the master’s tools are all you have? Should you just not attempt to dismantle the house that oppresses you? Problematic histories and applications be damned when we are fighting a seemingly endless uphill battle to end discrimination and bigotry on all fronts; we need every tool we can use.
Doxing certainly makes those who are targeted directly or are allied with the targeted groups feel a hell of a lot better knowing that someone out there faced the music for the terrible things they said. However, that may be the only real benefit of doxing. But I don’t think that makes it invalid; It’s worth something that marginalized people can have a small victory over oppressors for a time, even if this tactic does not transform or redistribute power.
Still, doxing leaves some feeling uncomfortable with it or feeling like it doesn’t quite get the job done. So…
What are some alternatives to doxing?
There will always be someone in the comments of someone who got doxed asking why the doxer never had a one-on-one calm conversation with the doxee. And that is certainly something to consider before doxing someone.
If you feel safe, secure, and stable enough to stand your ground one-on-one, privately in a direct message or in person if you actually know them, against someone who has made posts devaluing your identity and life, more power to you. It definitely seems like the most respectable way of dealing with it and it has been done with success before.
However, if someone is posting something saying that a person like you deserves violence, discrimination, or death because of your race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. it is not the safest strategy to place yourself in a situation alone with them.
Perhaps consider that holding one specific person accountable for their actions amid a sea of bigotry will not address the root causes of societal racism, sexism, transmisogyny, transmisandry, ableism, classism, xenophobia, etc. This person’s bigotry is a result of a toxic society that creates and fosters those beliefs. So instead you may choose to channel your desire for justice into a community or organization that seeks to alter society and transform oppression into liberation by donating time, labor, money, or items. There are innumerable organizations to consider: there is the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, and BlackLivesMatter, just to name a few.
Additionally, take some time to care for yourself. Take a step back and truly evaluate if you want to dox this person because it will bring about your desired effect or if you simply want revenge in the heat of the moment. Sometimes some good me-time can help to clear your head and decide if it’s worth it to you to dedicate your time and energy to someone being hateful online. You could read a book written by a hero of yours, watch a nice show that has respectful representation of people like you, spend time with friends who will reassure you of your worth, whatever brings you a sense of peace.
When there are people and institutions whose goal is to silence you, existing is resisting.
there is a lot of history, many consequences, and many more alternatives when it comes to doxing. It may not take you just one read of this article to determine where you stand, in fact, you may find yourself unable to categorize doxing as either good or bad because of how nuanced and contextualized its usage is.
Whatever you do, make sure you keep your bios private on social media. Just to be safe.