Doxxing: Why People Expose Others’ Personal Information Online

Fagjun | Published 2017-11-18 04:31

Researchers take a scientific approach to explaining the modern-day phenomenon of doxxing, wherein someone maliciously publicizes a person’s private information without consent.


 

 

We operate on the internet with an expectation of a certain degree of anonymity. Our social media profiles may bear our real names as well as bits and pieces of information about us, but we’re not always, well, ourselves on the internet. Many of us likely use sites, message boards, and play online games using aliases or usernames that won’t be easily identifiable. However, there are times when doxxing happens.

 

The word “dox” is a neologism derived from an altered spelling of “docs”, which is short for “documents”. To dox someone is to thus obtain and compile someone else’s private personal information--or “documents”--without their consent. Thus, doxxing usually comes with a negative connotation. It’s often a tool used to facilitate harassment, and can also make targets feel unsafe since complete strangers now know things like their home address or financial information.



How Doxxing Works


Keep yourself safe from doxxing by keeping your private information under lock and key.

 

 

Getting doxxed can be a terrifying experience. Other than the intent to harass and harm, why do people take the time and exert the effort to dox someone else?

 

This is what researchers sought to find out. A new study seeks to explore the reasons why people dox and get doxxed. The researchers gathered 5,500 dox files out of almost two million from websites designed to host private information stolen from particular people. These 5,500 files were selected by an artificial intelligence program that the researchers designed themselves. The tool was able to detect possible cases of doxxing among all the files hosted at the websites.

 

The contents of the files are harrowing to think about. There were files upon files of information like home addresses, work information, phone numbers, email addresses, usernames, passwords, credit card information, and even information about the target’s family members. The findings also revealed that the targets of doxxing tend to be young, with an average age of 22. However, victims can be as young as 10 or as old as 74.

 

Doxxers, according to the researchers, primarily justify their actions by claiming that their target has done something bad, either to the doxxer or to others.



From Petty Squabbles to Crusades


Organizations like Anonymous have used doxxing as a way to go after those they deem morally wrong, like members of the KKK.

 

 

The intent of doxxers range from petty to debatably noble. Some people are doxxed for cheating on a video game, while some are doxxed for being a child pornographer or a racist. One example is the doxxing of a Reddit user that goes by the handle “Violentacrez”, who was revealed to be a man named Michael Brutsch. Brutsch, under the name of Violentacrez, was known on Reddit as someone who spreads photos of underage girls in bikinis and making inappropriate remarks toward them, as well as about other controversial topics. Brutsch was fired from his job as a programmer after he was outed.

 

According to the study, over 82 percent of the targets were male, while just 16 percent were female. However, the researchers note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that men are more likely to be victims of doxxing than women. Many doxxing victims are video game players, and this subset of the population tends to have more male than female members.

 

The researchers also say that unfortunately, doxxing seems to be effective in getting rid of the overt online presence of certain users. After all, if your online activities are outed in real life, you’d probably tend to be a lot more careful when you go on the internet.

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