March 18, 2021 Articles

Doxing and Online Harassment: Considerations, Precautions, and Mitigation

Learn how to protect yourself against exposure of personal information in our increasingly virtual world.

By David L. Hecht, Antonio Rega, and Patricia Rodriguez

The sharing of personal information has become increasingly pervasive and, in many instances, incentivized for a variety of purposes. In particular, since the advent and prevalence of social media platforms, sharing recent life events with friends and family, enhancing one’s “personal brand,” or broadcasting various viewpoints, among other activities, have become commonplace. Along similar lines, the internet offers nearly limitless potential for various forms of retribution by those with grievances (be it with a certain person or entity).

Many have heard, for example, about unlawful dissemination or publication of intimate images, more crudely termed “revenge porn,” in which sexually explicit images or videos of individuals are posted without their consent, typically by people who have had a relationship with the victim. In other cases, users with a more limited relationship (or none whatsoever) can nonetheless wreak havoc on the reputation of a person or entity. It has become increasingly common for those hoping to hurt others to engage in “doxing,” (also spelled “doxxing”), the definition of which appears to be expanding, along with its prevalence. Doxing is currently defined as “[p]ublicly identify[ing] or publish[ing] private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge.” Doxing, Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

Traditionally, doxing involves the distribution of someone’s personal information across the internet against that person’s will. This sometimes takes the form of revealing a person’s concealed identity (such as when an author or blogger operates under a pen name or anonymous handle) without consent. See, e.g., Scott Alexander, “NYT Is Threatening My Safety By Revealing My Real Name, So I Am Deleting The Blog,” Slate Star Codex, June 20, 2020 (describing efforts by the New York Times to reveal the identity of a blogger without his consent). In other instances, doxing involves weaving together disparate facts about a person or organization to paint a certain, often misleading, picture—and then repeating the story with the hope that it will receive attention from others. More recently, sites like Medium.com have expanded the definition of doxing to include not only the distribution of private or obscure personal information but also the aggregation of publicly available information to target, shame, blackmail, harass, intimidate, threaten, or endanger. Medium, Medium Rules, Medium.com (Nov. 2019).

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