What is doxxing? Here’s what you need to know, including how to protect your personal information

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Doxxing is an increasingly common phenomenon. Westend61/Getty Images
  • Doxxing is a form of online harassment where a user targets a specific person or group, finds personal information, and publishes it.
  • Personal information could include someone’s home address, email address, phone number, real name, place of employment, family members, or photographs.
  • Doxxing is done with malicious intent, usually targeting a celebrity, social-media influencer, journalist, politician, or anyone the doxxer is seeking revenge on.
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Doxxing — which refers to “dropping docs” — is when an internet user targets a specific person or group, finds personal information about them, and then publishes it online.

Personal information can include, but is not limited to, phone numbers, email addresses, family members, spouses, real names, employers, or personal photos. Most of the time doxxing is a form of malicious harassment or revenge on celebrities, journalists, social-media influencers, politicians, or just about anyone the doxxer has a grudge with.

The term gained popularity on dark message board sites like 4chan, whose users pride themselves on being anonymous. So if someone is able to expose you, it is considered to be the ultimate disgrace. Now it is a much more common form of outing someone you don’t agree with personally or politically.

For example, a journalist for The Daily Beast was doxxed after he published a critical article about then presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The journalist, Scott Bixby, received thousands of text messages and voicemails from Sanders supporters and internet trolls.

In another case, a controversial YouTuber who goes by “Onision” was barred from Patreon after he posted screenshots of text messages with a woman who accused him of pressuring her into having sex with him.

In September, the musician Cardi B claimed a Trump supporter,who was later arrested, attempted to doxx her home address.

The doxxing of everyday people, however, is much more common. Say you’re friends with a coworker on Facebook and you see that they have posted racist rhetoric on their page. Someone who wanted to dox them might tweet a screenshot of the person’s post, tagging their employer in the hope they will be publicly shamed and fired.

The legality of doxxing

Technically, doxxing is not illegal as long as the information is of public record. Doxxers use the internet to find public information about a target and compile it with the intent of “exposing” someone or just for pure retaliation. But if doxxing leads to death threats or threats of physical violence on the target’s self or property, it can be illegal depending on where you live.

How to prevent yourself from being doxxed

First, think like a doxxer. Where would you go first? Search engines and social media are a good start, so you may want to consider removing elements of your online presence.

Try Googling your name or scrolling through your own social-media feeds to find what sort of personal information is publicly shared. Consider making your account private, using different handles for your social-media accounts, or simply deleting posts or tweets containing sensitive information.

Strengthen your account’s security and look through the privacy preferences to see what information you are publicly sharing.Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube all have privacy guides to help you determine what information you’re sharing and who can see it. If you listed family members, employers, or residences on your social-media profiles, be sure to set them to “Friends Only” if you want to prevent being doxxed — or remove them entirely.

Frequently change your passwords to your accounts. If you have a domain name, consider hiding your registration information from the WHOIS database. Finally, with the rise of doxxing, the US Department of Homeland Security released a guide on how to protect yourself online.

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